Thursday, September 13, 2007

...and taking names (3)

Having indicated my suspicions that a Leibnizian-Deleuzian ontology offers itself to as many slippery slopes as a Platonic one, it is now time to turn attention to the heart of Smith’s creational ontology. I indicated that the basic attempt at a creational ontology is brought into question by two ontological events and an array of biblical aesthetic. Before I arrive at these three, let us consider the most valuable element of Smith’s argument against Radical Orthodoxy (RO).
The real value of Jamie Smith’s argument for creational ontology is that he attempts to affirm the goodness of the body, which has suffered at the hands of many theologians. The current spike in interest in theology of the body is welcome, even if the scholarship is a bit flat. One does feel that there is often a rather uncritical acceptance or else a deep paranoia of the body and its passions in Christian theology. It is not often that one finds a middle ground. Although I did not grow up in a fundamentalist tradition, a mutation of Reformed evangelicalism did exercise its influence at a crucial point in my faith development. Often enough in such a tradition the body, especially the sexual body, is feared or otherwise to be tamed and broken for the sake of the [s]pirit. Smith, having grown up in similar circles, has exactly this kind of negative appraisal of the body in his sights when he loads the ammunition for his creational ontology. One gets the feeling that it is not so much materiality, but the body in particular (as proposed microcosm of the entire material order) that drives Smith’s campaign. And so it seems the closer we come to this issue the more we penetrate to the core of Smith’s argument.
The human person is the “test case” for these ontological musings. Now, whether we really want to install the human person as ontological test case for the whole of creation—a kind of reversal of Plato’s Republic, incidentally—is questionable. But since Christian anthropology begins in Christology (a contentious claim, I’m aware), we’re going to allow it here. In that case, of course, the foregoing interludes (on Donne and Herbert) raise some questions immediately. And so we come to the first ontological event to trouble Smith’s creational ontology: the Fall. "The Fall" I take as shorthand for the perception of Sin in the world. With "the Fall" sin and death entered the world, or maybe with the perception of sin and death, "the Fall" entered our lexicon. Either way, in the "drama" of salvation, the Fall looms as the blemish on the perfection of creation. Now if we lived in an unfallen world, Leibniz's ontology would be a fine explanation. This is precisely the (hyperbolic) argument of Voltaire's Candide. Leibniz does not take evil, nor especially sin, seriously enough in his ontology. If time were the only mark of transcendence, then we could not really talk about sin and evil, only of the perception of sin and evil, which is really the inability to acknowledge that we live in the best of all possible worlds. (Though, see David Hart's defense of Leibniz's theodicy against Voltaire in The Doors of the Sea.)
Voltaire's arguments bear some truth from a philosophical point of view, but from a Christian perspective sin is not really the consort of evil, but of death. Death and decay is the curse of a fallen world, not least the fallen children of Adam. Speaking of Adam, let me quickly engage in some diatribe against an imaginary interlocutor. Someone may say, "Adam was never intended to live forever." That is unclear from the creation narratives. In Genesis 2, Adam is told not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Only after they eat from that tree is the tree of life removed from them. It's a thorny narrative, but after they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, "they shall surely die."
So, death. Enfolded from the beginning of creation? I suggest not. Therefore, we have to decide whether Leibniz had in mind a pre-lapsarian or post-lapsarian ontology. I really do believe that the introduction of death and decay substantially (ha!) changes ontology. It is this cleft in ontology that makes the body both enemy and temple. The question is not well considered by Leibniz, nor I suggest, by Smith. In short, Smith seems to make the same mistake he rightly criticizes in Pickstock: "[He] seems to ignore the temporal qualifiers for such claims. (203)" Whereas Pickstock leans on Plato such that "all these claims in Plato are made with respect to what we might call a postlapsarian/pre-eschatological state--a time between fall and consummation when materiality is granted a certain remedially redemptive role," Smith's ontological musings seem to refer to a purely prelapsarian situation. And I suggest this is due to a lack of eschatological imagination.
I'll say it again, although Christians use Plato, they are not bound to an "authentic" reading of Plato. Christians use Plato (as all "secular" philosophy) to their theological ends, but their interpretations are all centered on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Where the Gospel overrides Plato the affinity ends and the correction is advanced. The eschatological end Pickstock has in view is the beatific vision. Smith takes arms against this because, "the model of the beatific vision as immediate intuition seems to require a negation of the embodiment of those who would experience such a vision. Insofar as discursivity is linked to physicality, a suggestion of an immediate, nondiscursive intuition for human beings must entail the assertion of a disembodied existence. (203)" In other words, being in the immediate presence of God requires the absence of body, and this the Reformed tradition must reject. I agree. But I am not convinced that the beatific vision must be bodiless, nor that embodiment need imply discursive non-immediacy.
I am aware of Smith's argument in The Fall of Interpretation, in which he argues that Paul's "face-to-face" eschaton (1 Cor 13.12), cannot be nondiscursive immediacy, but it does not convince because it does not fully understand resurrection. (I confess that I have not had the opportunity to review the book since the only library to which I have [limited] access does not carry the book. I confess myself disappointed that it is not in the collection here. If Dr. Smith or anyone else would like to "school me" on this point, I will happily listen.) The resurrection body is not the same as this body, though it is consistent with it. "What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. ...So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. ...Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this moral nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15.36-38, 42-44, 51-57)" (Sorry, but it is worth quoting at length.)
In other words, the second ontological event that bring's Smith's creational ontology into question is the resurrection of Christ. Christ's resurrection, as the firstfruits and pattern of the general resurrection (according to Paul elsewhere in 1 Cor 15), again alters the possibilities of ontology. It could be objected that the ontological event in question is not Christ's resurrection, but rather the incarnation. As if they could really be separated. It is true that the resurrection would never obtain without the incarnation, but the incarnation is untrue without the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The incarnation is the promise of a new ontology, the resurrection is its seal (as/and the first concrete instance of the new order), the eschaton is its consummation.
And so we reach the eschaton, in which a bodily existence subsists, but not our current creaturely body. This body is but a seed, which when it dies will yield in the life to come a much more extravagant and beautiful, in fact glorious, body. This corruptible body will put on incorruption. And who knows the hermeneutical limits of that body? Who knows the discursive or nondiscursive activities of the soma pneumatikon (spiritual body)? Indeed, it will be a body, not simply a spirit, but it will be a transformed body. We will all be changed! In that life, who is to say that face-to-face cannot be nondiscursive? Who is to say that the beatific vision cannot be at once immediate AND bodily. After all, God now has a body. The risen Christ ascended bodily, the risen Christ is God. (Ok, now I'm asking for debate.) But consider that the witness of Scripture testifies both to the bodily resurrection and that God will be all in all. With only the former we would seem to have little more than an everlasting resuscitation of this world, a cleansed political order; with only the latter, we have apokatastasis. But with both together we have a new embodiment in which God will be all in all and yet we will all have bodies. Will we be inaugurated into the very body of Christ? I cannot say, and that may come close to heresy. But it is certain that just as Christ's resurrection body was unimaginable (walking through walls, etc.), so perhaps our resurrection bodies will be more permeable and less ours than we can currently imagine. My point: I do not think the resurrection body necessarily entails discursive non-immediacy; that is, I think the beatific vision and the bodily resurrection can coincide.
Not to belabor the point, but we see that even in our current state most clearly in the liturgy and, to take an example from Smith's own repertoire, in icons. It is probably true that Marion's iconic ontology eventually eschews materiality. But true icons do not. Jesus is not the icon of the Father in that he is transparent and eventually to be done away with. That's actually modalism, and is in fact, a heresy. But Jesus is the true image of the Father, precisely in his embodiment (the feminists will disagree--I mean his resurrected body, which I think is more fluid sexually than our current bodies; consider, for example, that Jesus said the resurrected neither marry nor are they given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven [Mk 12.25]). Icons are windows to a transcendent reality precisely in their materiality. That is, the only way through them is in them. One must accept and embrace the icon's materiality to find that which lies behind and above and through the material. In this sense, one could say the transcendent is enfolded into the material of the icon, not to be revealed over time, but rather in faith and grace and glory.
I did also mention an "array of biblical aesthetic," which I have already touched on lightly. What I mean is that with Smith, as with far too many theologians these days, the apocalyptic has fallen out. Now, this is my thesis about a great deal of theology, which, incidentally, is very hard to sell to Ph.D. programs. I do not mean imminent expectation or violence or crazy imagery. Those are symptoms that I think are merely tangential to the core of apocalyptic. At the very center is the cleaving of the heavens and the earth in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Two worlds were born of the apocalyptic perception, partially because of the expected return of Christ, but also by the access to the heavenly realms Christ inaugurated. I suspect one will find, if they will only listen, the apocalyptic voice throughout the New Testament. The book of Revelation, sure, but also in the Gospels, also in Paul, also in Hebrews. The revelation of Jesus Christ puts a question mark to our existence, not in a Tillichian or Heideggerian or Sartrian quandary, but by the revelation of the glory of God. The light of God shines in the darkness, and by the light we know the darkness. This is apocalyptic. This, I suggest, is the gospel. The creation, the fall, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection. These are the apocalyptic plot line, the gospel plot line. (Someday, I'll maybe get all of this published and then it'll have a more fair hearing.) Where do we find the apocalypse in Leibniz or Deleuze?
Smith wishes to affirm both the radical dependence of the creature on the Creator and the original goodness of creation qua creation. I would first say that there is a great number of paths one can trod to answer the question of the creature’s dependence on the Creator that have no direct reference to ontology. In this genre I cite the ancient and noble religion of Judaism, whose primary foundational myth (ontology) is not the Creation, but the Exodus. A good hard look at Judaism could incite someone to build a covenantal ontology (as did Barth) rather than a creational ontology, and this describing indeed the creature’s dependence on the Creator/Savior, though through salvific event. Is it any wonder the exodus is a type for redemption in Christ among early Christians? Our dependence is not simply on the Creator, but also on the Redeemer, who saved us from what we had made of creation. (Whether human sin caused the entire curse of creation or some other evil, I remain ignorant.) That there should be sin and evil--and yes, death--in the world is not due to an imperfect Creator, but to a perfect creation gone awry. Herein lies Leibniz's error.
While Smith's creational ontology has good aims, I am afraid it falls short of its goal by overemphasizing the creation and underemphasizing the so-called drama of salvation. All that is, is not as it once was, nor as it will one day be. And since with Jesus Christ that one day breaks in on us (as Pannenberg would have it, proleptically), we occupy two worlds, and we acknowledge more than an ontology of immanence.

Next up (and hopefully last in the series): Smith's Who's Afraid of Postmodernism and ecclesiology.
Disclaimer: Due to the need to move along in my other projects and the stretched patience of some of my readers, I regrettably publish this bit a little prematurely. I welcome corrections of inaccuracies and other well-meaning and helpful remarks.


Larry said...

I want to thank you for a very engaging and thoughtful post. I should also confess that I find the tension betweeen your reading of the Fall and Smith's reading of the Fall to be a very interesting representation of Orthodox and Reformational thinking (at least to some degree).

When you write that death substantially changes ontology you do so on the grounds that the Genesis narrative states, "You shall surely die". The certainty of death is therefore an indication of a substantial ontological change (signified in the drama of salvation?). For a Creational Ontology, as I understand it, the possibility of death in service of life is given in the beginning as a function of life but when sin happens the direction of life is distorted so radically that death no longer serves life but assumes a pseudo-autonomy--a kind of radical evil. Thus, a creational ontology locates the Fall as directional not structural (or substantial, as you put it).

One strength that I see in the Creational ontology is that the Fall is not assumed in the beginning as something original (although it remains possible as far as the agency for participation in creation allows for further creation). Also, the Fall does not tell us about Creation--revealing something unknown in Creation that was before hand unknown and that is now, in light of the Fall, better understood. The Fall lacks the authentic substance necessary for revelation and is thus only able to assume a parasitic existence (hence the certainity of the kingdom of darkness, the intrinsic lack of true life). It seems that the short coming of this position, from point of view of the Drama, is that it doesn't really take the Fall serious. I can hear you ask, doesn't something terrible happen when we die...isn't the reality of death more substantial than just a misdirection. It is here that I want to agree with you.

The "real" of the Fall is that there really is death and that horrible things happen to good people even innocent people. The Fall shows us that the Good is vulnerable. So vulnerable, in fact, that life unravels in the Fall and those gifts given in the Creation are lead astray into curses. Family turns from being a place of belonging into a medium of exile (Cain and Able). The city turns from the possibility for complex cooperation to authoritarian conquest in the story of Babel. So the Fall does not add to Creation but attempts to de-create Creation by veiling Creations gifts with curses and violence. The Fall is radical but not primordial and can never assume the place of the original blessing or verbum of God.

This said, I don't think that the "neutral" equation of the body " that makes the body both enemy and temple" is present in Smith's work. The body either serves life or death and when it serves life it is more of a body than when it serves death. In this way, the body (originally) mediates the word(s) of life and is given life. This might be too close to an iconic view of the body for you but one might wonder how such a view could be seen as designating an aspect of embodiment as an enemy of God since it is only when the body fails to embody the word and mediate it that it becomes an enemy--and as an enemy kills itself.

This brings me to another point concerning a Creational ontology. Creational ontology sees God's creative act as fully open to eschatological event(s). This means that to be creational is to also be eschatological in that creation is directionally open to the future and thus in no way resists the eshatological--the resistance that is often associated with the "ground" of creation is actually creation resisting the transgression of evil. So when you describe the resurrected body as another substantial change it seems you have forgotten the gift of creation. You write, "The incarnation is the promise of a new ontology, the resurrection is its seal (as/and the first concrete instance of the new order), the eschaton is its consummation". From a Creational ontology the incarnation does bring new life but it is not antagonistic to the original blessing. Actually, it could be argued that creation was always meant to be incarnational--an image of God. The resurrection's redemptive aspect is overcoming death but the "more abundance" of life is its eschatological aspect that shouldn't be confused with the redemptive demands brought on by sin. The eschatological aspect is not overcoming life but fulfilling it and opening creation up to more life. So there is no gap between a creational ontology and an eschatological imagination if we understand eschatological as more life...even more creational abundance--what Hildegard of Bingen might call greening. This leads me to final question: How is your statement, "This body is but a seed, which when it dies will yield in the life to come a much more extravagant and beautiful, in fact glorious, body." radically different from Smith's description of the unfolding of creation? It seems you agree in the end. Smith might focus on the continuity between Creation and Eschaton but he does not deny the "new" life of the eschaton as also being the event of the unfolding of creation. The only difference I see is that Smith wouldn't ask, "Will we be inaugurated into the very body of Christ?" because even in the transformation of the eschaton difference remains--is perhaps even greater. Difference as/to the glory of God.

I hope my thoughts are dialogical and not monological. I appreciate your post and have learned much about the concerns many have about the use of a creational ontology. Many Thanks.

Andy said...


Thank you again for an extended comment. I appreciate the dialogue. Very helpful.

I'll begin with death and creation. I am sure OT exegetes are divided about this, but I'll give you my slightly less abbreviated exegetical analysis of Genesis. I'm not convinced death is original. "And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (2.9)" "And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, 'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.' (2.16-17)" "And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, "You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden neither shall you touch it, lest you die."' (3.2-3)" "Then the LORD God said, 'Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever....' (3.22-23)"

Alright, so here's the catch. Only the tree of knowledge of good and evil is prohibited. It seems that without eating from the tree of life "man" dies. But it also seems that they were intended to eat from the tree of life UNTIL they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Granted, this is only the Genesis narrative, and it does not suit us to build our doctrines only on individual voices. But Death is a popular enemy in the NT. Unfortunately at this point I can do little more than throw out a few references, for brevity's sake: Matt 16.18; Rom 5-7 (roughly); 1 Cor 15.21, 26; 2 Cor 3.7; Heb 2; Rev 1.18, 6.18, 20.13-14. Paul is especially important here, death came (was not already, apparently) by man.

There are two loci of disagreement, as I see it. Otherwise, you and Smith and I really quite agree on many things. First, whether evil is ontologically merely a privation of the good and death merely a privation of life, I am not sure. I am aware this is Augustine's position. But have you ever tried to explain the good without recourse to evil? Badiou's Ethics, for instance, tries to do this, but its subtitle is telling: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. If privation is the ontological reality of evil and death, then that must be found in revelation, because I think if you ask pretty much anyone they will believe a devil exists before they will believe God exists. Their experience of the world tells them so. I'm not about to ask, "Doesn't something terrible happen when we die?" Because I'm a Christian. Not because all I have to do is realize the sting of death is the misperception of life. "The Fall shows us that the Good is vulnerable. So vulnerable, in fact, that life unravels in the Fall and those gifts given in the Creation are lead astray into curses." Could be. But then something happens. Indeed, the Fall does not add to Creation; it de-creates. But this is, I suggest, not merely misapprehension of originally good gifts. It is, rather, and active rebellion against creation. By the nothing if you must insist on privation, but an active rebellion nevertheless. (I just thought of The Neverending Story.)

I'll put it bluntly, no level of holiness in this life, no amount of prayer or being filled with the Spirit can conquer death. We cannot simply eat of the tree and live. Our bodies do not tend to death because it simply fails to embody the word. It is no longer in our capacity to embody the word. Because of the fall. And that, I repeat, is an ontological event.

Finally, I think you may misunderstand my eschatological musings. It is not a Creational Ontology, per se, that is inconsistent with eschatological imagination. It is that Smith's particular employment of Creational Ontology is not capable of imagining an eschatological, resurrection body that is radically transformed from our current body. Nor am I saying that the incarnation is antagonistic to the original blessing; it is antagonistic to the body of death. It is antagonistic to the lusts of the flesh. The new ontology of the resurrection is indeed not a replacement of the current, just as the fall was not a replacement of the former, but a heavily edited text is still a new text, regardless of what it builds on. The new ontology is the ancient ontology. It is the new creation. It is the glorified creation, the way it was always supposed to be, but (would you believe it?) even better. In a sense, yes, incarnation and resurrection were acts of God's creation, and could thereby be maintained as creational ontology, but not the original creation. Behold! God makes all things new!

You are right, my speculation as to our body and Christ's body is dangerous. Probably unnecessary. And in the end we are not so far off, Smith and I. (Which is why the discussion seems so fruitful for me.) But it is different in that I do not see the eschatological existence as simply continuous with the original creation. It is consonant, the original leaves its imprint, but it is after all recapitulation. It is new creation. It is not as it always was intended to be, or else everything in between then and now has been necessary. And sin, evil, death have never been necessary. Not enfolded from the beginning. Remade from "above." Like a true Master Creator.

Again, thank you, Larry, for the engagement. Very thoughtful response, and I appreciate it very much. In the end I see two tensions between your position (and your reading of Smith) and my outlook. The first is privation. I'm not sure what to do with the idea of privation. Some times I agree, sometimes I don't. This is also taking shape now in talk of scarcity and abundance (e.g., Sam Wells). Sometimes I am convinced that there is nothing but abundance, but then, it's really hard to deny scarcity.

The second tension is my Balthasarian favoring of Irenaeus's recapitulation. While I do not wish to limit theology to dramatic categories by any means, there is truth in it. More importantly it is the New Creation, the Advent of the newness of life in Christ, that makes me stumble over the original creation. It is alright to say things are not as they should be. This does not detract from the Creator IF you take the fall into account. Otherwise, one must posit privation.

Please send me more questions if you have them. Thanks for reading!


Larry said...

Thanks for the response and the invitation to post again (if I have any questions). I have a question concerning you position on evil. You write, "But have you ever tried to explain the good without recourse to evil?" And I would say that I was attempting to explain the goodness of creation in my response without describing in opposition to sin. I actually find that starting from a eschatological position often leads to historicizing the Fall--But have you ever tried to explain the eschatology without recourse to evil? I think that we can only discuss eschatology "thetically" by acknowledging the difference between redemption and eschatology. Redemption is the making right of wrongs while eschatology is the making new of creation. If I can maintain this distinction then I would go onto point out that it is impossible to point to the function of eschatology without referring to creation (as well as creation to eschatology) where it is possible to point to either one's function without referring to sin. This is not to say that you cannot always point out ways in which sin corrupts the creation/eschatology relationship but this corruption is not original to the relationship.

This is important because it changes how we should read, "God makes all things new." I think reading this verse with emphasis on its eschatological meaning leaves it vulnerable to the blurring of the categories of eschatology and redemption. Eschatologically it is correct see the emphasis in the verse in the "newness" but it must also be read creationally by seeing how "new" is how God "makes" (all things). Reading it this way points to the fact that God has always made things new--birth itself (viz-a-via revelation) shows new life: thereby anticipates the power of resurrection. (As you can see, I too flirt with heresy).

But you make a very practical and important point when you remind me that "no level of holiness in this life, no amount of prayer or being filled with the Spirit can conquer death." I would first want to confess that I do (might) presume the possibility of assuming the office of conquering death but I do so only because I believe it has already been conquered (even though its final end is even still to come). What is important for my emphasis on creatoin here is not the fact that I will not conquer death with piety but that I can trust my life in Christ now, even to the point that those acts emboding God's love will live on beyond death's sting: God's faithfulness to creation (including to me) is remembered in the promise of the resurrection. In this way I don't see the capacity of the body being fully negated in death nor do I see death conquering the body so utterly that God cannot remember me (a new).

This leads me to my last question. Why do you what to make a qualitative distinction between historical moments in creation: from birth to new life. Why is new life better than birth? Couldn't we say that new life so honors the original blessing of life that it shows no comparison--neither better nor worse--but instead insists (with the gift of creation) on opening up the original blessing to more blessings to come?


Andy said...


Again, thanks for the comments. Well worth considering. Only a short response tonight, as the hour is late and the flesh is weary. Your first challenge is that I discuss creation thetically. And this may in fact be the crux of the matter. Creation, in the sense of original creation, is (at least per my current argument) impossible to describe thetically.

I'll take a step back. If we look at Judaism, for instance, the primary thing about God is not that God created the heavens and the earth, but that God led the people out of Egypt. As I said, the foundational myth is of Covenant and Redemption rather than Creation. Creation flows from the Covenant in Judaic theology (at least to my interpretation). This is not an antithetical, but maybe a supplementary, theory/theology of Creation.

Likewise, a Christian theology of Creation flows from eschatology. That is, I think we know something about original creation from the new creation (which is eschatology), more so than vice versa. In addition, eschatology is inextricably bound together with Jesus Christ, and therefore with soteriology. It seems to me that it is precisely the fall (and sin) that drives a wedge between creation and eschatology. Without the fall we could in fact muse upon creation in a pure ontology of immanence, because in fact the current state of creation would also be the eschaton. The fall wrenches the two apart, thereby making a distinction between (original creation) and eschaton (new creation). At this point we do have two options--a historicizing of the fall (the scandal of immanence), or a negation of either an actual original creation (a good myth) or of a current fallen (corrupted) world. I am unwilling to give up on the actuality of an original good creation, but also the imperfection of the current order is obvious. And that leads me to historicize the fall. That does not mean that I need a literal Adam and a literal Eve to eat the fruit of a literal tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What it means is that I need a concept of historical time.

And here is perhaps the central concern that should be under discussion. What role does time play in these ontologies? The ontology I have outlined (albeit by way of antithesis) is I suppose Platonic, but synthesized with the great story of Christian thought. It is much like the book of Hebrews in that respect. In fact, it is much akin to Patristic thought in that way. It allows for actual historical events in the realm of immanence (the world), while the realm of transcendence (the heavens) is perfectly ordered from "the beginning." I really do hold something of a doctrine of two worlds (which is largely what I was getting at with my comment on apocalyptic in the original post). Not a naive doctrine, of course. God's agency in the world must be accounted for.

What I worry about with Smith, or really any ontology of immanence, is that it does not allow for a true history of salvation. If a historicized fall is unnecessary, is not also a historical redemption unnecessary, and really also then an historicizable eschaton?

At any rate, for Paul it is the advent of Christ that makes all things new. It will be important in further reflection to recall, yes, that "through him all things were made," but again I am not claiming that the things made new are replaced. But they are made into a new creation, distinct from the first. Indeed, in terms of a historical consciousness, that does mean they are replaced just as what was past is replaced by what is present.

Long story short here, I cannot make the separation you do between eschatology and redemption because they are the same and yet distinct.
Eschatology is really only the fullness of redemption, which is really only the perfecting of fallen creation. But even so, that perfection has been de-created (as you put it), deconstructed if you will, and must needs be mended.

Your point on death is instructive. You do not say you can trust your created life, but that you can trust your life in Christ. Here we would agree, because your created life is NOT a life in Christ. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. In other words, we are not Pelagians, who believe our nature is perfect if our will could just live it out. Rather, good and evil alike fall under the curse and need Christ. The question I would pose is, what happens to those who do not live a life in Christ? What is death to them? Are they not forgotten by God?

To your last question (my answer has turned out to be not as brief as it should have been). It's a good question. It is a strange question of the entire drama of salvation. What if there were no fall? Would we have known of the TRIUNE God? We would not have Christ, that is certain. God would not have become flesh (not "put on flesh", mind you, "become") and dwelt among us. Although God would have walked with us in the cool of the afternoon, would we have known God in the intimacy we do now. God has known suffering for us and we have now known God's suffering for us. There is something more full in the kingdom of heaven just as the Trinity is more splendid than the One. Perhaps the original creation was just as we shall be. If so, then what we are now is not what we were created. If so, then we were created with glorified bodies, resurrection bodies. And if so, then those bodies are now lost to us, that creation is now lost to us, and our musings on this world are fruitless.

It is no so much that I wish to place a great difference between origin and eschaton, as that I wish to embrace all of the historicity of the drama in its immanence.

I need to stop. I feel that much of what I have said is correct albeit a bit elliptical. In summary, time and event, I think may be key to our disagreements. Part of honoring the body is honoring event, honoring historical experience. I simply believe the same is true of grasping the whole of ontology from a Christian perspective. Historicity and events matter. Things change. The real question I will need to answer sufficiently in the future is to what degree does this imply an event and a change in the life of God. But that's a whole other can of worms.

As always, questions and comments are welcome.


The Catholic Atheist said...

Andy (and Larry), I really have enjoyed this discussion.


I find you quote, "Will we be inaugurated into the very body of Christ?" a bit concerning - as you noted. I simply remembering Long mentioning more than once that the eschaton is not simply the construction of a fourth person of the Trinity (humanity). However, I don't know if you are suggesting something else... a whole collapse into the second person of the Trintiy?

I am enjoying your writing.

Andy said...

Hey catholic atheist,

Yeah, the heretical thought is basically the same problem as apocatastasis, but slightly modified. If Christians are currently members of the body of Christ (some would even say that the Church is Christ's resurrection body...don't know about them). And if God will be all in all, I'm wondering if there really will be difference in the eschaton. In the end I'm sure it's heresy, and even unsatisfactory to me. But its attractiveness is the literally be re-membered into God through Christ. I don't have any systematic thoughts on it, really, and I'd be happy to recant if ever called out on it. Yes, it's a deleterious concept.

I don't like the idea of a collapse into the second person of the Trinity, nor a fourth person. Not sure what that would mean for the Trinity. The basic affirmation is that we share in the very life of God, coupled with the idea that we are members of the body of Christ, topped off with God being all in all.

Eh. That's why it was no more than a suggestion. Thanks for the comment.

P.S. how's my affirmation of scarcity? :)