The first installment in our symposium comes from Hank Spaulding, an Adjunct Professor of Christian Ethics at Ashland University. For those unfamiliar with Ziegler’s book, Spaulding’s contribution will serve as a helpful resource to enter into the apocalyptic discourse characteristic of Ziegler’s manuscript.
In recent years, the concept of “the apocalyptic” has emerged as an essential idiom in theology. A variety of authors utilize apocalyptic themes in order to interpret issues as diverse as political theology, the Apostle Paul, the nature of sin and evil, and other areas of theological inquiry. However, there remained, until the publication of Philip G. Ziegler’s Militant Grace: The Apocalyptic Turn and the Future of Christian Theology, a need to broaden the apocalyptic to encompass larger dogmatic issues to prove its relevance an essential idiom for all contemporary theology. The apocalyptic signals the incursion of Christ into the cosmos in order to defeat the powers of sin and death, thereby breaking the cosmos open to God’s eschatological future. Such an incursion makes humanity aware of its radical contingency in light of Christ’s immanent return. Therefore, Militant Grace serves as a leap forward for the relevance of apocalyptic theology for the whole spectrum of theological inquiry.
Defining the scope of apocalyptic, Ziegler states that it attests “to the accomplishment of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, representing a primary idiom by which faith sought to attest to the gospel and conceive its consequences” (xiii). The consequences of apocalyptic, then, strike at the very substance of Christian theology because it begs the provocative question: What world do you see? In God’s invasion, humanity suffers a loss of the world as defined by sin and death but receives a new world in Christ’s Lordship which is ever present in its eschatological dawning. Ziegler serves as our illuminating guide to this in-breaking reality.
This is evident in Ziegler’s tripartite division of the book. In the first section, “The Shape and Sources of an Apocalyptic Theology,” Ziegler outlines a definition of apocalyptic through establishing various theses on apocalyptic theology. Between the two chapters in this section, the unitary theme of apocalyptic is unforeseen opening. The poverty of modern theology lies in its seclusion from that which is outside its own immanent processes. The shape and source of the apocalyptic lies in that which does not obey these internal logics. Only when God’s salvation is not dependent on the doings of humanity can it truly be called salvation.
After establishing the tenor of the apocalyptic, Ziegler broadens his inquiry to specific dogmatic pursuits. The second section of this book is titled, “Christ, Spirit, and Salvation in an Apocalyptic Key.” In these chapters, Ziegler helps readers identity the emphasis of an apocalyptic dogmatics. To be clear, the apocalyptic is not, for Ziegler, a mere theological ornamentation to dogmatic discussions, but the very essence of theological conviction itself. Take for example the priority given to redemption in Ziegler’s account of the apocalyptic (see chapters 3 and 4) against the modern reduction of redemption to anthropology. A person, as Ziegler shows, is defined by their particular lord (59). Humanity in its fallen state is conscripted to serve hostile powers. Thus, the Lordship of Christ is expressed most clearly in reclaiming creation for the work of God.
This reclaiming takes an eschatological posture presently enlivened by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lordship of Christ is not closed but rather comes as an eschatological future. So, the power that draws humanity to this end lies with the Holy Spirit. As Ziegler writes, “No one says Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (73). The Spirit is the present power of God’s eschatological reign (72). The lives of believers are repossessed in the Spirit toward a future not yet arrived. The Holy Spirit, then, serves an important role in both an apocalyptic account of christology and eschatology.
The eschatological convictions hold together the vast array of apocalyptic theology. The apocalyptic, if it is to be about the usurping of hostile powers, must be open to a final end. As Ziegler writes, “To pray for the coming of the Kingdom is to beg that God would come upon the world as God. For God to do so would end its illegitimate and vicious usurpation by the powers of sin and death, making the whole of creation coextensive with the sphere of his rightful, effective, and salutary lordship” (84). The rupture of Christ opens up the creation to its final ends in God. In these chapters, Ziegler sets up a tension between powers, Christ’s incursion into fallen powers, the present fullness of God’s eschatological future in the Holy Spirit, and the final eschatological fulfillment of creation. Christians must live in this tension by faith within the power of the Holy Spirit. Human life cannot be secured apart from God.
The final section of Ziegler’s book unpacks what it means to live by faith in light of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In this section, entitled “Living Faithfully at the Turn of the Ages,” Ziegler turns his attention to the moral life. Covering an array of figures and subjects such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Calvin, and natural law, Ziegler shows the deep moral convictions that arise from Christ’s Lordship. The theme of the moral life and these final chapters is: there is no account of the moral life that can avoid the powers of sin and death lest it become complicit in these powers.
Ultimately, any new theological text is judged on its ability to broaden readers’ appreciation of the author’s position and offer challenging insights. Ziegler’s book does both. Readers of Militant Gracewill not only gain a rich understanding of apocalyptic theology, but also the new language it offers theology. However, I believe Ziegler’s book offers yet another important aspect to readers, namely the tenor of discipleship in a time such as ours. Ziegler highlights that politics normally consists of deploying demons against that which we already call demonic (66). This house divided against itself cannot stand. The apocalyptic theology proposed by Ziegler is riveted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the faithful disciple will take the posture of exorcism rather than dividing the house. In times such as ours, such a description of the gospel is needed.
Stay tuned for more next week!