Part I: Emancipatory Binding and Communitarian Praxis

Michael J. Gorman’s wonderful “theological introduction to Paul and his letters,” Apostle of the Crucified Lord (AOTCL) moves forward in its interpretive praxis through a (primarily) participationist hermeneutic. [1] Gorman (and this is not unique to his scholarship) correctly distinguishes between the Gospel ens a se on the one hand and the benefits of the Gospel on the other.

Gorman writes,

“[We] must always remember that the good news for us is that we can now participate in the grand story of God; ‘personal’ benefit and experience…must be placed in the larger context of God’s salvific activity. In other words, for Paul, realities like ‘justification’ and ‘salvation’ are social or corporate realities; we experience them with other people” (AOTCL, 134).

This distinction is perhaps one jumping off point, a conceptual springboard, from which we can begin to expand on pressing ideas in the air among left-wing Christians today. Christians together “constitute the covenant people of God” (135). What this means is that the texture of reconciliation with God must not, cannot, and will not begin with individual people reconciled to an individual God; it begins, much to the contrary, with a storied God redeeming his beloved people in space and time as the fulfillment of his freely willed determination to be the God of love in freedom, the God who wills to be with human beings for all eternity. Gorman terms the individual components of the Gospel as its “benefits.”

Barth, in his lecture-series-turned-book Evangelical Theology, wrote of the requirement of dogmatic work to have “the character of a living procession.” He provides a helpful analogy: we should not, as theologians and dogmaticians, think of any single of aspect of theology in “splendid isolation” from others. To do so would cause the movement of one’s work to be like a bird trapped in a cage, rather than a bird in flight. If only one were to view a particular theological issue in light of an entire dogmatic enterprise. [2]

In the same way, never mind the question of necessity, were we to begin this project of socialistic theology from the vantage point of the human individual in “splendid isolation” from other human beings, it would establish an interpretive grid that passes through various themes and ideas as a caged bird, rather than as a bird in flight. What’s more, the imagery of a bird in flight is apropos: inasmuch as we can imagine many birds in formation, a flock of birds speaks to the mystical reconciliation and liberation shared in and through Christ in our metaphysical Union with him.

The human community is not identical to the community of God, but the community of God is contained in the human community. Every person, being an image bearer, is meant to mirror God’s divine kavod as an apostle of his Edenic-restorative mission. All have turned away from this mission — we build our houses on sand, rather than on the immovable rock. The liberating power of the Gospel is the emancipatory procedure through which God manumits, enfranchises, and coronates his children as heirs to the promise. This is in effect God’s freely willed binding of his selfhood to human nature, eternally (in his will as the moment of his being, eternally unfolding in the energies of the Spirit) and in the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Jesus Christ. The liberating potentiality of the Gospel is actualized in the dialectic movement of the already-not-yet schema.

As the community of Christ, we are made alive together with and in Christ though the power of the Spirit by virtue of God’s grace and lovingkindness:

“4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4–7 NRSV).

A communitarian praxis is heavily dependent on the theology of being made alive, being resurrected (Auferstanden zusammen), together and in toto. Here we do not appeal, as contemporary liberal theology could, to the postmodern idiosyncrasies of constructive theology, e.g., along the lines of Gordon D. Kaufman. [3] Rather, we would do well to consider Bonhoeffer’s main ideas in Sanctorum Communio.

Part II: Shared Meals and the Eucharist

A Cultic Restoration

Brant Pitre has written

“[When] the Last Supper and Jesus’ related words and deeds are situated within the triple contexts of ancient Judaism, his public life and ministry, and the rise of the early church, they strongly suggest that Jesus saw himself as the new Moses who would inaugurate the long-awaited new exodus, set in motion by a new Passover, bring back the miracle of the manna from heaven, and gather the twelve tribes of Israel into the heavenly and eschatological kingdom of God — all by means of his sacrificial death and the prophetic sign of his death that he performed at the Last Supper.”

Pitre, Brant J. Jesus and the Last Supper. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015, p. 3.

Pitre concludes,

“[As] I have tried to demonstrate, it is precisely Jesus’ embrace of apocalyptic eschatology that enables us to explain how it is that he both expected the kingdom to be inaugurated by his passion and death and commanded his disciples to celebrate a ritual enactment of his redemptive death in his absence.”2

Ibid. p. 516.

We learn the following; in summary:

“As his teaching regarding the banquet with the patriarchs and his vow at the Last Supper show, for Jesus, as in Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic literature, the kingdom of God was not only an eschatological reality to be tasted at the “end of the world,” but a heavenly reality that already existed in the invisible transcendent realm. […] [The] Last Supper itself, as well as the remembrance of it to be celebrated by his disciples after his death, becomes a mechanism of the eschatological restoration of Israel. As the prophetic sign performed by Jesus with the Twelve disciples makes abundantly clear, it is not a geographical restoration Jesus envisaged (any more than it was a biological reunification of the twelve tribes), but a cultic restoration — we might even call it a “eucharistic” restoration — in which the scattered descendants of Israel and the nations spoken of by Isaiah are already beginning to be gathered into the banquet of the heavenly and eschatological kingdomby eating and drinking alongside the patriarchs and the Son of Man himself in the covenant instituted by Jesus.”

Ibid.

I argue here that this eucharistic, cultic restoration of Israel is the second foundation for the basis of a new socialistic theology, after having recognized our anthropology in the church as the new human community of God. I previously wrote,

The human community is not identical to the community of God, but the community of God is contained in the human community. Every person, being an image bearer, is meant to mirror God’s divine kavod as an apostle of his Edenic-restorative mission. All have turned away from this mission — we build our houses on sand, rather than on the immovable rock.

I continued,

The liberating power of the Gospel is the emancipatory procedure through which God manumits, enfranchises, and coronates his children as heirs to the promise. This is in effect God’s freely willed binding of his selfhood to human nature, eternally (in his will as the moment of his being, eternally unfolding in the energies of the Spirit) and in the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Jesus Christ. The liberating potentiality of the Gospel is actualized in the dialectic movement of the already-not-yet schema.

When the church gathers together eucharistically, the distinction between sacred and secular (if ever such a one existed) evaporates. As Bonhoeffer argued in his Ethics,

“As God and humankind become one in Jesus Christ, so through him the Christian and the secular become one in the activity of Christians. They do not quarrel with each other like two eternally hostile principles. Rather, the activity of Christians gushes forth from the unity of God and world created in Christ…. It is acting in vicarious responsibility, in love for real people, in taking upon oneself the guilt that lies upon the world. What is “Christian” and what is “secular” are no longer fixed ahead of time.

As quoted in Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. I Want to Live These Days with You: A Year of Daily Devotions. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox, 2016, p. 256.

The new modality of being is typified most strikingly in the eucharistic meal. Neither as the religious and pious nor as the wicked and profane do we approach the Host, but as partakers and participants in the new human community of God. We participate in the Edenic garden-making mission of the New Kingdom and directly begin this mission at the shared eucharistic banquet.

The plasticity of our new anthropology is another theme that runs throughout Bonhoeffer’s writing. We must confront each context and each worldly situation anew with an eye towards the coming of the Kingdom and the presence of the Holy Spirit. As God’s mercies are new every morning, so enlivened by the power of God the Holy Spirit in the restorative viaticum (food for the journey), we must confront each new situation as seriously and with the vicarious responsibility as if the whole world were filled with the glory of God—which it is.

Clifford J. Green’s “Editor’s Introduction” to the English edition of Bonhoeffer’s Sanctorum Communio: A Study of the Sociology of the Church (DBW, Vol. I) includes the observation — one we should all perhaps reflect upon—that

“Bonhoeffer does not interpret the Christian community as a religious ghetto, but advances a thesis about human sociality per se. When Bonhoeffer writes in his Ethics that the Christian community is a ‘section of humanity in which Christ has really taken form,’ that is another way of stating the point already made in his first book, that ‘the church is God’s new will and purpose for humanity.’

“Editor’s Introduction” in Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Edited by Joachim von Soosten. Sanctorum Communio. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume I. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2009, p. 3.

Green continues,

Christ personifies the new humanity, and the Christian community is about the restoration and consummation of the created sociality of all humanity, That is why social philosophy and sociology are intrinsic to the treatment of the church.6

Ibid.

In her wonderful MTS thesis, Suzette Benjamin writes, summarizing important literature on Barth studies, that

“[what] Jüngel suggests…in the CD is Barth’s discovery of the “call on me” as the basic meaning of every divine command. Thus, calling upon God in prayer is ethics as instruction. Jüngel understands Barth to show throughout the doctrine of reconciliation that the ethical question: “What shall we do?” is replaced with a request for instruction: “How then shall we pray?” The response Jesus Christ provides is, “this then is how you should pray, ‘Our Father in heaven hallowed be your name . . .’” (Matthew 6:9). The human’s decision to call upon God in obedience to this command is at the heart of Barth’s understanding of ethics. Jüngel addresses the obvious objections by explaining that human moral will is contrary to the will of God. The statement refers not only to the Christian life, rather it is how the Christian includes the whole of humanity in prayer as he or she calls upon the name of God for the hallowing of God’s name and His will to be done.”7

See thesis here.

In our Eucharistic prayer, we pray — not as passive observers — but as active participants in our new humanity in the Edenic restorative-mission of the New Kingdom. The very Eucharistic prayer of the Church is the beginning and consummation of the emancipatory binding praxis of solidarity and sociality, Christian and worldly.

You will find in the Order of Mass, Preface I of the Ascension of the Lord within the Eucharistic Prayer (Prex eucharistica):

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,

always and everywhere to give you thanks,

Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

For the Lord Jesus, the King of glory,

conqueror of sin and death,

ascended (today) to the highest heavens,

as the Angels gazed in wonder.

Mediator between God and man,

judge of the world and Lord of hosts,

he ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state

but that we, his members, might be confident of following

where he, our head and Founder, has gone before.

Therefore, overcome with paschal joy,

every land, every people exults in your praise

and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts,

sing together the unending hymn of your glory,

as they acclaim:

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

See preface here.

In the case of the Ascension of the Lord, Christ rose not so as to “distance himself from our lowly state,” bur rather that “ we, his members, might be confident of following / where he, our head and Founder, has gone before.” In our conformity to the very being of Christ, through our works enlivened by grace and through our mystical participation in the Holy Spirit, we become like Christ in his Paschal mystery. We become co-crucified, we die, and are made alive again.

In his Evangelical Theology lectures, Barth writes

“By definition, the God of Schleiermarcher cannot show mercy. The God of the Gospel can and does. Just as his oneness consists in the unity of his life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so in relation to the reality distinct from him he is free de jure and de facto to be the God of man. He exists neither next to man nor merely above him, but rather with him, by him and, most important of all, for him. He is man’s God not only as Lord but also as father, brother, friend; and this relationship implies neither a diminution nor in any way a denial, but, instead, a confirmation and display of his divine essence itself.

Cf. Barth, Evangelical Theology, pp. 11–12

Speaking about our anthropology by way of our relation to Christ and the Christ-event, then, Barth notes

Many other theologies may be concerned with such exalted, superhuman, and inhuman gods, who can only be the gods of every sort of bad news, or dysangelion. But the God who is the object of evangelical theology is just as lowly as he is exalted. He is exalted precisely in his lowliness. And so his inevitable No is enclosed in his primary Yes to man. In this way, what God wills for man is a helpful, healing, and uplifting work, and what he does with him brings peace and joy. Because of this he is really the God of the euangelion, the Evangel, the Word that is good for man because it is gracious. With its efforts, evangelical theology responds to this gracious Yes, to God’s self-proclamation made in his friendliness toward man. It is concerned with God as the God of man, but just for this reason, also with man as God’s man.

Ibid.

The “helpful, healing, and uplifting work” of God that brings “peace and joy” is most passionately seen, felt, and tasted in the Eucharistic banquet. As the epitome of God’s self-revelation, of his self-proclamation, of his unequivocal Yes! to man, the Eucharist serves as the pillar upon which vicarious responsibility for the world must take place. With our new anthropology of communitarian self-binding, with our shared banquet as the restoration of the Israel of God, we now stand facing the question of vicarious responsibility: the question of how we pray in the world and what we do with our hands and with our words in the world.

Sources

[1]: Cf. Gorman, AOTCL, p. 4: “[The participationist perspective] stresses transformative participation in the death and resurrection of Christ as the central dimension of Pauline theology.”

[2]: Cf. Barth, Evangelical Theology, pp. 9–10

[3]: Cf. Molnar, Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity, for a critical survey of Kaufman’s ideas vis-à-vis modern Trinitarian debates.

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