I’ve been sick for the past week or so, which hasn’t left much extra energy for blogging. But I want to get back to (and hopefully wrap up!) my series on R. Kendall Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology.
Previously, we’ve seen that Soulen tries to re-cast the biblical narrative as one of blessing-within-difference. In creation and in the covenant with Israel, God’s will for creation is a differentiation of existence which leads to mutual blessing precisely through that difference.
So how does the gospel about Jesus fit in to all this? Soulen notes that the gospel is meant to be news–good news–but news about what? His answer: it tells us something about God’s coming reign. “News about God’s coming reign is good or bad depending on the outcome of God’s work as the Consummator of creation (p. 157).” The fact of evil suggests that this outcome is not assured–that God’s intentions for creation could be severely hampered, or even undone altogether. Will the outcome be one of blessing or one of curse? Or perhaps blessing for some and curse for others?
The good news then is God’s “present answer to the eschatological question of whether God’s work as Consummator will prove ultimately victorious on behalf of all creation over the powers that destroy (p. 158).” Faith in the gospel of Jesus is ultimately faith in “the ultimate victory of blessing over curse,” a faith that is manifested in “cruciform discipleship” (p. 158).
In his life and ministry, Jesus bears witness to a certain understanding of what God’s coming reign will look like. He “trusted God’s reign to consummate the economy of mutual blessing that God had initiated long ago through God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah” (p. 160) but also that this consummation would include the nations. Secondly, he trusted that God’s reign would consummate creation “in a manner that reclaimed, redeemed, and restored the lost” (p. 161). In short, God’s reign will be marked by reconciliation for mutual blessing, not a zero-sum victory of one group over another. Jesus’ displays a trust in the ultimate victory of mutual blessing, even in the face of the forces of “curse, violence, and enmity” (p. 162). Hence his commands to bless and pray for one’s enemies, which give a cruciform shape to the life of discipleship.
In following this path ultimately to the cross, Jesus “became wholly identified with the lost whose cause he advocated,” but in the resurrection, God “vindicates the economy of mutual blessing over against all the destructive powers of sin, curse, separation, and death” (p. 164). This throws a new light on the cross, which we can now see as his point of “utmost solidarity with the lost” for the sake of “the whole house of Israel and for the whole earthly economy of difference and mutual dependence” (p. 164). The resurrection appearances are marked by reconciliation, feasting, and sending, and the risen Christ becomes a source of “power among the living until the day of the Lord’s return (p. 165).”
So, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has provided a “victorious guarantee” of God’s “end-time fidelity to the work of consummation.”
The gospel proclaims Jesus as victorious because through the resurrection God vindicates Jesus’ trust in the triumph of blessing over curse, life over death, communion over isolation. At the same time, the gospel proclaims Jesus as guarantee because while everything about Jesus pertains to God’s eschatological reign, Jesus himself is not that reign in its fullness. (p. 165)
Jesus, then, is a foretaste, a prolepsis, of God’s coming reign. He is the down payment or promissory note that shows that the end will indeed be one of blessing, not curse. He is the sign that God’s program of universal blessing through the calling of Israel will be a reality:
If Jesus is the proleptic enactment of God’s eschatological fidelity to the work of consummation, then Jesus is by this very fact the carnal embodiment of God’s end-time fidelity toward Israel and toward Israel’s future as the place of unsurpassable blessing for Israel, for the nations, and for all creation. By its very nature, then, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead anticipates a future event whose character as victorious fidelity can no longer be in doubt. That event is God’s intervention on behalf of all Israel in keeping with God’s promises, such that God’s final act of covenant faithfulness toward Israel redounds not only to the blessing of Israel but also to the blessing of the nations and all of creation. (p. 166)
In the next post I’ll look at some of the implications Soulen draws from this for the life of discipleship and the shape of the church.