The second installment in our symposium comes from Steven Harris, adjunct Professor of Theology at Redeemer University College and Wycliffe College, Toronto.
There are some books one reads that demand a fundamental readjustment of one’s own thinking. Ziegler’s Militant Grace is one such work. More influenced by the late John Webster, my theological exposition has been much more pacific than militant, though that now needs to change. Within the greater freedom of a symposium, since there is no need to rehearse the book’s contents, I want to offer reflections on Ziegler’s dogmatic presentation of apocalyptic through three foci: (1) Pentecostal theology; (2) the non-competitive nature of divine-human agency; and (3) the relationship between biblical exegesis and theology.
First, contemporary Pentecostal theologians often argue, with less than satisfactory historical awareness, that other Christian traditions, and especially the Reformed, have relegated the Spirit to a subordinate role, merely an applicatrix of Christ’s work. To repair this perceived issue, they embrace inadequate options: a Spirit-Christology, sometimes even as an alternative to Logos-Christology; an opposite independence of pneumatology from Christology (especially in theology of religions). Pentecostal theology is also historically Arminian on questions of free will, in further antagonism to Reformed theology. I argue, however, that Reformed theology, and especially its apocalyptic inflection in Ziegler’s fifth chapter, offers resources truer both to the work of the Spirit and the biblical witness.
On the relationship between Christ and Spirit, Ziegler’s caution regarding restriction of the Spirit’s work to “internal” suasion, and not also the external Word, in some Reformed theology is salutary. Paul himself names the preaching of the Word as the Spirit’s work (1 Cor 2:4, 13) (76-77). The same caution should be exercised regarding undue independence of the Spirit from Christology in Pentecostal theology, as if he could be anyone else’s S/spirit. Word and Spirit are properly inseparable, for they are one and the same God in his threefold activity.
On free will, Pentecostals can wholly agree that “the Spirit is the present agent and sovereign advocate of the transit of Christ’s reign in the present age” (78). Turning from Paul to Luke—the homeland of Pentecostal theology—the Spirit “marks off” people for mission (13:2) and “seizes” human beings for the proclamation of the gospel (8:39). But this has not been sufficiently received in Pentecostal soteriology; the Wesleyan legacy, and a diminished one at that, abides. Yet Pentecostal experience is precisely such “seizure” of human agency by the Spirit, utterance καθὼς τὸ πνεῦμαδὶδοται (Acts 2:4). In no way do we “permit” the Spirit’s advent, despite misguided popular rhetoric; we may only wait and pray (1:4, 14).
Second, one of the areas of rare consensus in contemporary theology seems to be a non-competitive account of divine and human agency. In short, God’s action and creaturely action are not a zero-sum game. God acting in a human being does not mean the human being does not freely act; on the contrary, God’s action is precisely what enables a human being to act in freedom. God’s power is a power for the creature; when exercised, it enables the creature to be and do. Developed most extensively by Kathryn Tanner, it is taken up by Rowan Williams and John Webster, amongst others. But what here of the antagonistic situation of the creature in Paul, the creature that in her or his action is God’s “enemy”? Doesn’t God sometimes act not for but against his creature?
Rather than Paul, I turn here to the gospels (anticipating my third section). The exorcism narratives are clarifying in this regard. (Incidentally, I find compelling Ziegler’s more recent suggestion that an account of Satan could be developed through the concrete course of Christ’s overcoming of him in the gospels, from his temptation to the cross.) When Jesus casts out demons, in an apocalypse of God’s power (Luke 11:20), his opposition does not destroy but liberates human beings to once again be themselves. Only insofar as they are against God is God is against human beings, and this only in order to enable them once again to be and to be free. The Gerasene demoniac is afterward “found. . . sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35). This is the form of God’s being for those who are against him. That I have exposited this with both ontological and apocalyptic language is a question for Ziegler—and Tanner too, differently. Nevertheless, the pigs are destroyed; elsewhere in Scripture, of course, so too are human beings opposed to God. Can we say that, in the mystery of divine election, there are casualties in God’s war to reclaim his creation from antagonistic powers?
In this light, an apocalyptic understanding of the non-competitive nature of divine and human agency offers a profound account of redemption as liberation. Salvation is not simply consummation, in any direct and continuous way. Rather, salvation takes place through the “creative negation” of the present world and humanity’s situation within it (28). Therefore, the centre of an apocalyptic rendering of this consensus theologoumenon, I suggest, cannot be incarnation (contra Tanner), but must, with Paul, be cross and resurrection.
Third, Militant Grace is an exemplary instance of theology creatively engaging biblical studies, and docility toward Scripture, I contend, is characteristic of anything worthy of the name. At just this point, however, I offer my only real challenge, though perhaps I can put it differently than others, such as Katy Hockey, have put it. For theology to be as thoroughly apocalyptic as Ziegler envisions, it must encompass the whole New Testament and, indeed, the whole Bible. For, as Ziegler puts it nicely, “To say that theology. . . is self-involving is too weak an assertion” (12). As a disciple of Christ, I cannot be a member of any theological school of thought (1 Cor 1:12-13). As Barth emphasized against F.C. Baur (without naming him), Paul does not write to the Corinthians to contend for his own school—“Paulinism”—for Peter, James, and the others were all “appeared to” by the risen Christ; he stands at the origin of the one gospel common to all the apostles.
But if theology is to be wholly apocalyptic, it cannot be so solely on Pauline ground. Indeed, scholars now see apocalyptic elements in Mark, Luke, and John. Revelation goes without saying. What of Matthew? or James? The questions could, however, be reversed: if there is properly only one gospel, isn’t it then fitting to read the rest of the New Testament witness through Pauline apocalyptic? If apocalyptic is not solely a literary genre, but “a mode of theological discourse fit to give voice to the radical ontological and epistemological consequences of the gospel”, surely this is constitutive of the whole New Testament as such (170)? Locating such unity may be anathema to contemporary biblical scholarship, but perhaps that is theology’s challenge to its reshaping in the light of the advent of the one Lord, Jesus Christ.
Steven Edward Harris
Redeemer University College / Wycliffe College, Toronto
Wesley himself holds that human depravity is total: “…every inclination, affection, passion, appetite; every temper, design, thought. It must of consequence include every word and action, as naturally flowing from these fountains” (“On Original Sin,” I.2).
Die Auferstehung der Toten: Eine akademische Vorlesung über 1. Kor. 15(Münich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1924), 86, cf. 3-4, 6, 9, 71-72.