Thursday, September 08, 2005

Theology on rye

Perhaps you've heard about "Theology on Tap," a Roman Catholic ministry which has been dispensing large draughts of good theological conversation, often at a bar or grill, for some 25 years now. Well, a group of graduate students and I had our own version of "Theology on Tap" this morning at the locally famous "Bodo's Bagels." Call it "Theology on Rye." Marble rye, to be exact.

This particular Bodo's has its own fascinating history. The third of three Bodo's in Charlottesville, it finally opened its doors on the Corner after ten long years... Ten years, I might add, of local anticipation, anger, doubt, and, yes, perhaps even a sense that the empty store with the “Coming Soon” sign was the only Corner institution by the name of Bodo's we were likely to see. So I suppose it was appropriate that our little Bodo’s band this morning spent most of its time discussing, well, eschatology—the ways in which another institution is already here even as we wait for a final Coming.

Our passage for the day was Galatians 5, but that didn't stop us from discussing the political implications of the Gospel, the relationship of flesh and the law, the continuity (or lack thereof, as the case may be) between Israel and the church, and so on. Indeed, Paul's fundamental and redemptive-historical contrast between flesh and Spirit (see previous posts!), in Galatians 5 as elsewhere, leads quite naturally to such questions. The main point there is to draw out the ethical implications of living according to the Spirit (and its age)--as opposed to regressing to life in the flesh and under the law. Along the lines of our discussion of Romans 8...

On the political side of things I made a point this morning which I owe to Russell Moore's book, The Kingdom of Christ: that the "already" and the "not yet" of our place in redemptive history affects our understanding of the extent to which the kingdom can work itself out in society in this age. For the purposes of this post I'll concentrate on how understanding the "not yet" of the kingdom helps to avoid premature triumphalism (my point in the discussion this morning)--or, for that matter, unrealistically high expectations--in the present age. Moore puts it this way (p. 79):

A clearly developed evangelical theology of the "not yet" keeps... a historical vision at the forefront, while dismissing every secular attempt at utopia as, at best, a pretender to the throne. Thus, evangelicals can affirm, as did George Eldon Ladd, the conclusion of E. C. Gardner: "Christian eschatology means the end of all social and political utopias which expect to achieve a perfect pattern of peaceful society by human means and human strength." Thus, a Kingdom-oriented, inaugurated eschatology can inform evangelicalism by reminding the movement that, as Carl Henry has counseled, all secularist and evolutionary models of utopian progress have "borrowed the biblical doctrine of the coming kingdom of God but cannibalized it."
We have, then, no reason to despair and every reason to hope: the kingdom of God will come in its fullness to this world. It will come with Christ at his return. And yet it will not fully come before that time, whatever we do. In that way our hubris is chastened even as our hope is kept alive. Which is just what we need in the wake of Katrina.

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At 11:37 PM, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

As one who lived in four different domiciles and worshipped at two successive churches in C'ville while waiting for the Corner Bodos to open, I'm a bit jealous that you got to see that Great and Terrible Day. I half expected it would herald the Second Coming!

As to your comments about the implications of "already/not yet" of the gospel, two things: (1) Had my first class of Interpretation of the Gospels with Dan McCartney today. In his intro, he chose this definition for a Gospel: "the written presentation of the oral declaration that the Kingdom of God had begun." I'll be interested to see how he works out that definition. (2) I'm currently finishing Jon Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven" which details the bizarre "ordered-by-God" killing of a Utah housewife and her 15-month-old child by fundamentalist Mormons ten years ago, linking it back to the entire history of Mormonism. He shows how such behavior is the logical (if extreme) result of Mormonism's over-realized eschatology of being the Kingdom of God on earth.


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