Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Is Christianity Credible? 2

posted by xscot mcknight

In chps 3 and 4 of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Love Alone is Credible, Balthasar speaks of an aesthetic that speaks to us from outside ourselves. Such an aesthetic perception of beauty cannot be reduced to my imagination. Love, Balthasar, is credible in the Logos. Hear me out on this one.
One of the main points Tom Wright is now making — though he hasn’t written much of it lately — is that we do not know God and therefore recognize in Jesus that God. Instead, we come to know God because we know Jesus Christ. If Jesus is God with us, Immanuel, then God is known through Jesus. The difference between these two is radical. Balthasar is a master of the same idea in a completely different manner. His is a radical aesthetic — we know Love by knowing the Logos.
As I read him, Balthasar attacks human self-sufficiency to show that the Logos does not prove cosmic reason but instead subverts it: John allows “the incarnate Logos to interpret himself” (55). The Logos reveals himself as Love, as Glory, and as Truth.
The only authority is the Son who reveals the Father in the Holy Spirit as Love.
Love has two failures: finitude and frigidity. Humans cannot come to terms with God’s Love as Logos on their own terms; they are confronted by God’s love in the Logos and that revelation subverts our sense of love and transforms it.
Here it is: Christianity is not a “teaching” but “an action that God undertakes, the playing out of the drama that God began with mankind in the Old Covenant” (70). “The key to understanding the action lies soley in God’s presentation of himself to human beings on the stage of human nature, by virtue of the identity of the divine ‘Author’, the divine and human ‘Actor’, and the divine Spirit, who exists identically in both and who interprets the action for those whom the Actor has brought into the drama” (70).
“The scandal is here to draw his [the human] ey to the uniqueness of the love that manifests itself and, in its light, to reveal his own inchoate [potential], creaturely love quite concretely for the nonlove that it is” (73).



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John Frye

posted December 28, 2006 at 8:16 am


Scot,
We as a people do not understand nor appreciate the confrontive power of love: “…they are confronted by God’s love in the Logos and that revelation subverts our sense of love and transforms it.” As NT Wright regularly comments something like “We are drawn to choose between ‘the love of power’ or ‘the power of love.'” Jesus ‘conquers’ (though that’s not a PC term) with love.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 28, 2006 at 8:21 am


And what is central to Balthasar is that we don’t define love; God’s act in Christ defines it.



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Dan

posted December 28, 2006 at 8:26 am


Not knowing anything about Hans Urs von Balthasar, I can only ask a question or two. That “God is known through Jesus”, no Christian would disagree in the least. But the idea that “that the Logos does not prove cosmic reason but instead subverts it” might be a tougher one for some to swallow. Did God not create a universe that has consistent physical and moral laws that we can comprehend?
When it is said that “Christianity is not a ‘teaching’ but ‘an action that God undertakes, the playing out of the drama that God began with mankind in the Old Covenant'”, is it being said that there is no “teaching” at all in the New Testament, only an example of love? When it is said that we know God only through Christ, does that mean that Old Testament believers knew nothing of God through reading the law and prophets?
My mind jumps, perhaps wrongly, when I read these statements to the skepticism of the adequacy of language so prevalent in the “after-modernism” thought forms and to the “God is ineffible” notions that led to the loss of orthodox belief in the mainline churches. At what point does emphasis on the “actions” of God in the “story” completely overshadow the idea that God communicated to humans in human language in both the Old and New Testaments?



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Susan

posted December 28, 2006 at 8:29 am


Scot,
I’m grateful you are posting on this book. I wish I had time to read it myself but I’ll have to glean from your reviews.
Christianity is not a “teaching” but “an action that God undertakes, the playing out of the drama that God began with mankind in the Old Covenant”
I feel like we’ve lost the sense that teaching and doing are of the same cloth, this one drama woven so tightly that we ought not think of them as two different things. Discipleship is God-initiated hearing-to-do, learning-to-love, knowing-to-be.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 28, 2006 at 8:31 am


Dan,
Good point: the cosmic reason point is about Balthasar’s theory that many have reduced (big word for him) Logos to cosmic reason. Logos, instead, shapes what true cosmic reason is.
No, he does not deny “teaching.” He does not want the Logos reduced to the teachings of Jesus. The OT intimated the Logos.
Balthasar is not a postmodernist on language.



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Bill Smith

posted December 28, 2006 at 8:32 am


Scot,
Since I have not read much of von Balthasar my comments are based on what you have written. He seems a little to radical in his assessment of Jesus (logos) relation to God’s revelation in nature and through Israel. Based on Romans 1 and comments by Jesus that the Jews should have recognized him I take it that the revelation of God in Jesus is not so discontinous. Paul also seems to argue in Acts 17 that message he is preaching is not so radically different from what they already know. Does von Balthasar’s comments sound like the radical Barth to you.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 28, 2006 at 8:41 am


Bill,
At times, I think he does sound Barthian, but he has a completely different twist to it all. His fear is the reduction of the Christian faith to cosmology and existentialism — and not enough Logos confronting humans in their utter sinfulness. (That sounds a little Barthian itself.) I do think there is absolute continuity for him, but it is revelatory rather than something that can be otherwise established by reason.
I think you’d like to read this little book. His other books are multi-volume and ponderous. (Sorry to those who love him.)



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Bob Postiff

posted December 28, 2006 at 8:51 am


Balthasar and Barth’s works read as their reflections and meditations on their experience of God. they write with passion and with deep conviction. I don’t understand the points that they are trying to make but their writings flow out of love for God.
The book gets easier to read after the first two chapters if you don’t know about the work of the men that Balthasar refers to. It seems to me that NT Wright and Balthasar are saying similar things. That the Logos is Jesus revealing God and his love towards us. We understand God’s love through the actions and person of Jesus.



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Bill Smith

posted December 28, 2006 at 8:59 am


I have appreciated a number of quotes by von Balthasar so I will look into it. I got the idea that he is sharply contrasting God’s revelation in Christ with those who see Jesus as merely the embodiment of what they already know by reason. He might be more in line with Tertullian who who contrasted Jerusalem with Athens. I think it is good to point out the difference but without making the it so radical. It seems that we should expect some pointers to God in creation yet expect that humans tend to distort what God gives us due to the fall. Jesus comes to affirm, correct, and expand our understaning of God.



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Dana

posted December 28, 2006 at 9:57 am


Hi Scot and Folks: When reading your comments the term contrition came to mind?



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Scot McKnight

posted December 28, 2006 at 10:31 am


Bill,
Yes, there is a sharp contrast because knowledge by reason and trust in revelation are contrasted. I think his issue is how cosmological studies and existential studies end up reducing Jesus to little more than wisdom or self-knowledge. Part of this has to do with approach: instead of giving a positive description of what we can know “naturally,” he’s intent on showing the definitive wisdom comes by revelation.



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Mark DeVine

posted December 28, 2006 at 11:31 am


The influence of Karl Barth is palpable in Balthasar. I mean especially Barth’s quest to avoid what he called “alien norms” whereby we allow prior understandings (of God, love, fairness, whatever) to distort or prevent comprehension of a new meaning encountered through the word of God. Barth also distinguished the two approaches as “abstract” theology versus “concrete” theology. In the latter the interpreter stands poised to have prior understandings re-shaped or replaced by the concrete speech and activity of God. One example; the Incarnation demonstrates that deity was always free for humanity. Notions that deity could not truly take on humanity were alien norms.



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gymbrall

posted December 28, 2006 at 11:46 am


Scot,
You may have done this in the past, but it would be interesting to me to have a discussion about Biblical love. My understanding of love in Scripture is that it is resolved through responsibility. That love is expressed through the proper fulfillment of our duty (as defined by scripture). I’m sticking something to that effect up on my blog, but you’ve got a bigger audience and would generate more discussion and more viewpoints.
Anyway, just a thought,
Charles



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Kirk Bartha

posted December 28, 2006 at 10:02 pm


Been too long since I dropped in… nice post. I love Balthasar – so augusti-gardian… or is he kierke-stinian.
Ironically, I have just now been reading Balthasar’s “The Christian and Anxiety”:
“Faith, love, hope must always be a leap for the finite creature, because only in that way does it correspond to the worth of the infinite God. It must always mean taking a risk, because God is worth staking everything on, the the real gain lies, not in a “reward” for the daring leap, but in the leap itself, which is a gift of God and thus a share in his infinitude. In the daring leap, something of the limitless self-giving of the Divine Persons to each other becomes visible in a flash – at the poitn where are ground, which is limitation, is relinquished and where man can actually sense that being in the Absolute means – hovering. Lifted up in the arms of grace, carried on the wings of love, he feels a tremor, which, in and of itself, bestows on him precisely the security needed to stand no longer on his own or on the earth but to be able to fly by a new power….”
Almost as potent as Gregory of Nazianzus :)



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Kirk Bartha

posted December 28, 2006 at 10:04 pm


ooops… type-o should read “at the point where all ground”



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Scot McKnight

posted December 28, 2006 at 10:08 pm


Kirk,
Good to hear from you again.
I’ve not read lots of Balthasar — but he’s a bit nervous in this book about Kierkegaard’s existentialism. Your quote is a good one.



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Kirk Bartha

posted December 28, 2006 at 10:19 pm


Havn’t read the book yet, but his “nerves” over Kierk. may be an extention of his critique of Barth.



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Dana Ames

posted December 28, 2006 at 11:47 pm


Scot,
your post conveys Beauty. Must investigate this “small book”.
Kirk,
your quote reminds me of the end of “The Matrix”…
Dana



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Clare Krishan

posted January 1, 2007 at 1:47 pm


May I suggest to arrive at the crux of credibility, rather than study the Knight of Faith of Kierkegaard, we consider Cervantes’ Don Quixote (Broadway/Hollywood’s Man of la Mancha and “Dream the Impossible Dream”)?
As in Kierkegaard, an existential crisis revolving around a female protagonist provides the material for reflection. In Kierkegard’s individualistic “internal” world, his dreaming the impossible dream permits him to make a leap of faith from the second of two phenomological experiences of self: a diffident Aesthete ‘enslaved’ by his perceived unworthiness to his beloved, who upon Ethical reflection is resigned in mind to biding his time devotedly, absent an encounter with her in his lifetime. His leap of faith permits him to escape his mental torment, to “hope” that he will be reunited with his True Love. Kieregaard gets us from the ‘cosmological’ ethical surrender of monotheistic faith (as in Islam) to an existential idea, a shadowy hope, of things unseen, as Abraham might have experienced (fittingly I write this in the days of Eid al Adha, the Muslim festival commemorating the events on Mount Moriah).
But Abraham was not Moses. While he didn’t encounter the Divine Persons, he was promised descendents as numerous as the stars. A physical reality he could perceive with his senses, not merely an ideal of ethical righteousness to assuage his conscience with justification, as Kierkegaard would have us “believe”. Faith and hope only get us so far…
Now consider the folly of Quixote – believing a prostitute is his muse Dulcinea, so completely convinced unto death (credibly) that the whore choses to subscribe to his madness rather than maintain her human identity, she consents to become the Dulcinea Don Quixote has pursued for so long. This is what Hans Urs von Balthasar means by “that the Logos does not prove cosmic reason but instead subverts it” the rational Knights of Mirrors (note the play on Plato’s cave) attempt to “cure” Don Quixote of his fanciful love of chivalry and in the process bring about his demise. The “proof” of the logical reasonableness of his love for the fallen wench is her reciprocating his love, her free choice to chose holiness over her limited concept of ‘authenticity’, she finds her true authentic self, by seeing herself as God sees her mirrored in the Truth, God is Love, the Christ figure Don Quixote. The appeal of true aesthetes (as opposed to Keirkegaard’s definition) like von Balthasar make to those who would call themselves Christians is to become Dulcinea/Bride of Christ/his Church – to see ourselves as God the Father sees us, to not permit human criticisms of our fallenness to divide us, to not settle for Calvin/Luther’s pile of dung, but to recognize the beauty of the dishcloth, the miraculous in the shaving bowl.
Cervantes surely had to do the same after risking life’n’limb (disabled defending Christendom from the Moors at Lepanto and held captive by the foe for half a decade) and having been ransomed by the Church, to return and be imprisoned for impecunity! There’s loveless Christian ethics for you, the Pharisaical secular authorities. While Kierkegaard came close, he didn’t make Cervantes logical next step, although he was close enough that the State Church in Denmark, including members of his own family, wished to deny him a Christian burial – was his chilvaric thinking too “roman”tic, too Catholic perhaps? We fractured and separated Brethren are inclined to overlook Christ’s invitation to see his Church from his Father’s point of view but prefer our own human understanding? Is it any wonder that with the absence of reverence in worship of God the world cannot see him? Some hold up the Scriptures alone, his marriage proposal and say “Love” but disrespect and fail to honor the covenant implied within. Joseph didn’t rely on Scripture alone, like Abraham he heeded the Revelation of a mysterious Angel, recognized Mary as immaculate, and became the model of all pastors of holy families ever since, abiding loyally at her side without any reward save a promise of eternal reward (heck the early Christians developed that pattern early on and dissed him too – no one cared to record his demise). And yet he wasn’t a mere Kierkegardian Knight of Infite Resignation – he had Emmanuel with him all his days.
And we do too – in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the alter – the ultimate Logos/Love. The Word is not merely letters on pages of Scripture, he is Emmanuel, God with us, where we may encounter him each and every day. Kierkegaard’s faith failed to make that leap, not because his will was defective, nor his love insincere, but rather he settled for “dreaming the impossible dream” of encountering her/his Beloved/the true Church in the next life, he didn’t seek her out NOW in this world, like Don Quixote did. Jesus consummated his Divine Marriage on the Cross. And in reading his holy book we hear his unending proposal. The true encounter is when we enter the bridal chamber so to speak, not contracept his conjugal concept by settling for our own sterile relationships, but reciprocate His fertile love, gladly bearing the mockery and disregard of our fellows for lovingly upholding the honor of our female protagonist and trusting in her fertility, as fecund as a starry night. Its the only credible way…
P.s. To anyone offended by the Catholic tone, consider it jestful folly, not hurtful jibe.
Resources
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knight_of_faith
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_of_La_Mancha



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