Eccentric Existence: Part 2

Continuing our look at Kelsey’s Eccentric Existence I want to turn to some methodological and structural issues. While I will not go into Kelsey’s criticisms of other anthropologies, I do find it helpful to start here with one of his overviews of the tradition:

When the claim that the triune God relates creatively is taken as a theologically central claim, anthropology usually has a nature/grace structure (typical of catholic theology) or creation/redemption structure (typical of classic Lutheran and Reformed theology) that keeps primary focus on the goodness and strength of human creatures by virtue of God relating to them…When the claim that the triune God relates to draw all that is not God to eschatological consummation is taken as a theologically central claim, anthropology usually has a ‘creation/consummation’  structure (characteristic of much late-twentieth-century theology of hope) that keeps primary focus on the goodness and glory of human being by virtue of God relating to them” (115-116).

While each of these approaches, according to Kelsey, are problematic, they do helpfully note that only as we grasp the true mystery of an anthropology that is distinctively theocentric, do we grasp what it means that human beings are “distorted in the human condition.” Kelsey is concerned that the question of sin often becomes the centerpiece of theological inquiry concerning anthropology, such that a methodology oriented by the sin question makes anthropology anthropocentric. Furthermore, this move narrowly conceives of human beings as being primarily moral agents to whom God relates to in terms of their moral worth. In Kelsey’s judgment, “That is inconsistent with the global judgment that Christian beliefs systematically hang on the claim that God’s relating to all that is not God, including human beings, is grounded in God’s free, wise, and generative love and not in human moral qualities” (119). Therefore, instead of conflating the two distinct questions: What is the logic of Christian beliefs? with What is the logic of coming to faith? which Kelsey claims are often conflated, his project focuses entirely on the former inquiry.

Turning our attention more fully to Kelsey’s trinitarian logic, he builds on the biblical narratives’ focus on the God who creates, reconciles, and consummates, and notes that the pattern of relationships among the three hypostases changes. These changes are not to be read back into the immanent life of God, but are, according to Kelsey, asymmetrical scriptural accounts of the way the triune God relates to creatures. It is helpful to attend to these asymmetries. In Kelsey’s summary:

Formulated abstractly, these differences of pattern are the following: It is the Father who creates through the Son in the power of the Spirit; it is the Spirit, sent by the Father with the Son, who draws creatures to eschatological consummation; it is the Son, sent by the Father in the power of the Spirit, who reconciles creatures. These are not merely rhetorical appropriations of different relations to different hypostases for the sake of convenience in exposition” (122).

Let us take a brief look of each of these in turn:

First, God creates out of his eternal abundance, and that abundance is love. Creation ex nihilo does not respond to something out there to provoke a loving response, rather, it is out of God’s inherently generative love that he creates the world. This is what it entails to emphasize that it is Father who creates. “To say that the Father creates through the Son is to stress that God’s creating is rooted in an eternal dynamic relation in which Godself is given and received as God’s intelligibly wise self-expression, God’s ‘Word’ in which is expressed God’s glory, incomprehensibility, and holiness – the fullness of God’s mystery. Because God’s creating of reality other than God is rooted in the Son’s relation to the Father, the character of the Son’s relation to the Father has implications concerning what is created. It means that, as the Son is the self-expression of God, so also what is created through the Son, namely humankind’s proximate contexts and humankind in them, are themselves in their own ways God’s self-expressions of God’s glory, incomprehensibility and holiness…” Furthermore, to say that the Father creates through the Son by the Holy Spirit stresses that this act of creation is eternal and free, flowing forth from an eternal relation of self-giving and receiving. It is, likewise, a further iteration of God’s self-giving and receiving of love within his own life. This first emphasis outlines the first section of the book, with a focus on the radical otherness of God as creator, with a particular emphasis on the preposition “to” – in that God relates as creator to creatures.

Second, the next scriptural pattern is that, “The Spirit, sent by the Father with the Son, draws creation to eschatological consummation.” The Spirit, as the giver of life, draws creation to eschatological consummation, and this drawing is, again, an overflow of the eternal giving and receiving of love in the inner-life of God. “In enacting love to draw creatures to participate in God’s own life, the triune God is at once self-consistent and freely self-determining. That is the force of saying ‘the Spirit,’ rather than the Father or the Son, ‘draws creation to an eschatological consummation'” (126). Grounding this in the Father’s enactment of creation, is to highlight that consummation depends on creation necessarily. The emphasis in this formula on “with the Son,” stresses three things: 1) “that the Son’s life defines the life into which the Spirit draws creatures”; 2) “that the triune God’s drawing human creatures into God’s life is grounded in the self-expressiveness of the giving and receiving that constitutes the divine life, and that self-expressiveness is wise”; and 3) it “stresses that the triune God draws human creatures to eschatological consummation wisely.” Furthermore, this focus on the Spirit provides an import into anthropology through an emphasis on the reality that the Spirit is “circumambient,” that is, the Spirit interpenetrates communities of human persons, thereby highlighting the radical otherness of God and his intimate nearness (126-127). This formula provides the contours of part 2 of the work, where the preposition “between” will have particular emphasis – noting the circumambient nature of the Spirit.

Third, “the Son, sent by the Father in the power of the Spirit, reconciles.” “To say that ‘the Son reconiles” is to stress that the triune God’s reconciling is grounded in the eternal divine self-bestowal in love which is the divine life” (128). Here, the emphasis is on God with us – on God’s giving Godself to human creatures as the Son. Furthermore, to focus on the Son as Sent by the Father, is to stress that the reconciling One is none other than the One who creates. This reconciling is, again, like creation, not provoked by creation, but bubbles up through the infinite abundance of God’s own life. The Father sending the Son in the power of the Spirit stresses two things: 1) “the divine self-giving that reconciles is also powerful to enliven”; and “since the Spirit proceeds from the Father ‘through the Son,’ the phrase ‘in the power of the Spirit’ stresses the qualification that God’s enlivening reconciling is not merely powerful, but wisely powerful for creatures’ flourishing. God reconciles in the power of God’s wisdom” (129). This final formula makes up part 3 of the work, which is also volume 2. The preposition utilized here is “among,” which presides over that exploration through a distinctively Christological emphasis of God’s nearness and otherness.

Therefore, the prepositions ‘to,’ ‘between,’ and ‘among’ highlight three irreducible differences among God’s relation to us, each appropriated to an aspect of the threefold way God’s relates to his creation in creating, consummating and reconciling it for his own purposes. Next, we will turn to the concept of wisdom, which has already poked its head in this analysis (if you were paying particularly close attention). Until then, what are your thoughts of this kind of analysis?


One thought on “Eccentric Existence: Part 2

  1. THis kind of belabored triune analysis is not too useful, if 1) the very concept of a Trinity itself is biblically and otherwise problematic. And especially if 2) individual members of the Trinity – like the Spirit – are essentially so undefined/free, (“wind”y) as to be essentially variables.

    Given the variability of the elements, and even the ensemble, any appearance of exactitude is strictly illusory.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s