Theology, Science, and Critical Discourse (Part 4)

I concluded Part 3 by pointing out that Troeltsch departs from Rickert on the question of “value neutrality.” It’s worth noting that this is also a departure from Troeltsch’s friend and colleague at Heidelberg, Max Weber, who is really the father of the idea of ethical neutrality in social science scholarship.

This first departure is arguably both Troeltsch’s most subtle and his most important. His case against value free judgment is primarily built upon the fact that without something recognizable in ourselves, we would never be able to make a judgment in the first place. This does not open the door, however, for unscientific polemic against cultures and histories as objects of study; rather, it is precisely what allows for empathy, for an even handed and rigorous study of unfamiliar times and places. This is also not say that such studies become automatically subsumed under the normative value judgments of the scholar. Rather, as we shall see, Troeltsch argues along Rickertian lines that value relations constitute the organizing principle of historical study.

Troeltsch agrees with Rickert that in the course of human history thus far, there are actually very few values which we can claim as relevant to history. This fact immediately eliminates the concern of an insurmountable and overwhelming relativism which had assumed that there was no means of establishing any sort of non-arbitrary way of approaching the infinite manifold. Thus a hopeless relativism (or irrationalism) is no longer an issue. This first step is important for Troeltsch particularly in rejecting the claim of the orthodox apologetic that the materials of history are dangerously relative, offering no means of discerning values in a normative way. On the contrary, history provides us with precisely the most salient normative developments. Troeltsch writes:

The important thing is to compare these developments in such a way as to take in the widest possible historical horizon in the hope of discerning not a universal principle of law like that at work in concepts employed in the natural sciences but a principle suggestive of tendencies toward a common goal. […] We will draw together the most outstanding results of man’s spiritual development that are known and accessible to us, basing this procedure on the supposition that their being known to us is not a mere accident but is due to the fact that they are the only significant developments which spring from an elemental matrix.

Among the world’s major religions, Troeltsch argues that there are really only “three or four basic orientations in which the power of religion is disclosed, orientations that have their counterpart in, and give support to, entire spheres of culture.” On the surface, this claim sounds reductive; however, these orientations serve as value concepts in precisely the same way that Rickert’s understanding of values functions–with the vital difference that they are not universal. In other words, these concepts only function in historical study insofar as they hold validity for reality. They are ideal, not real. They do not presuppose a correspondence to reality. And they are permeable, malleable, and non-permanent. Troeltsch tempers this assertion with the following:

There is nothing to prevent us from regarding the significant results of scientific, political, artistic, social, and religious life as enduring. It must be remembered, however, that just as these results took shape within definite contexts, so too they always assume individual forms. The doctrine of endless progress, or rather the theory of endless change, is a groundless prejudgment that seems plausible only to people who have consigned all metaphysical ideas regarding a transcendent background of history to the status of illusion—and with such ideas the religious belief in the unity and meaningfulness of reality.

We may take this as yet another illustration of his attempt to temper the relative with the absolute and vice versa. He is not content to take either on their own as a ground from which to approach history—only the two together.

In broad strokes, the same can be said of Troeltsch’s ambiguous gesture toward a “common goal;” however, more unpacking is necessary to see what he is getting at there. He acknowledges that this idea is at least vaguely reminiscent of the absolute which he has already rejected. Indeed, he means the concept of the common goal to replace the absolute altogether. This common goal, as a concept, has no content but serves as a general telos, as a criterion for judgment and is in this respect at least related to the previous idea of the absolute. The vital distinction between the common goal and the absolute, however, is found in the former’s origin. Troeltsch writes:

In the same way that we today think of the ultimate primarily as an inexhaustible movement of life, we may likewise understand the criterion of evaluation as something that merges within this movement of life as a result of a universal perspective on the one hand, and involvement in this movement on the other. It can be characterized as the determining of a direction, the setting of a course among the great, dominant tendencies of history. The criterion itself is both the product of a particular historical situation and a means for its further development; it is not a static and completed principle that determines how the process will take place (my emphasis).

In other words, Troeltsch is attempting a new understanding of what it means for a concept to be essential or a priori; namely, that all such concepts have a history of development, are currently in development, and have an unknowable historical trajectory.

We can see here Troeltsch’s explicit rejection of an absolute principle outside of history as the criterion for normative judgments. In effect, Troeltsch’s argument leads to the conclusion that Christianity must be understood in the context of the history of religions–with the important difference from Ritschl that it not have an ahistorical organizing principle driving it. That is, whether the common goal takes the form of the overcoming of suffering, perfect moral and spiritual development, or the establishment of a kingdom of God, Christianity must always be understood in the context of the basic orientations of the history of religion so that a proper comparison may be made, and thus an evaluation. This comparison is not a means of establishing Christianity as the absolute religion above all others; rather, it is a means of clarifying the internal, subjective commitments of the individual Christian or Christian community. In other words, the criterion that serves as the principle of judgment is always ultimately a matter of personal conviction–the conviction of the historical church.

The history of theology and the church move forward when emerging ideas, those beyond the historical horizon of the current epoch, flood into the mainstream by fusing with current ideas/social-historical-material conditions. And this isn’t only true for theological history, obviously. Troeltsch thinks this is how history moves–not “forward” necessarily, but it moves. Troeltsch also thinks this process is much more rational and “clean” than either Weber or the historical theologian Karl Holl do, which itself could be a whole different series. In the final post, I’ll finally give me own commentary on Troeltsch and Rickert and how I think they can contribute to the articulation of a materialist theology.

Advertisements

Theology, Science, and Critical Discourse (Part 3)

We finally arrive at Ernst Troeltsch and his engagement with a multifaceted and problematic relationship between theology and social science. In parts 1 and 2, I laid out the problems he is grappling with as I understand them. On the one hand, we have the dual problems of “value neutrality” and the “objectivity of values” in historical and social scientific study and on the other, we have the problem of theology as a discipline centered around an organizing principle, attempting to take into consideration the development of Christianity as one world religion alongside others, while also utilizing its organizing principle to assert its own absoluteness.

In the foreword to the first edition of The Absoluteness of Christianity and the History of Religions, Troeltsch remarks that the aim of the text is to clarify the relationship between the “theological faculties” and those utilized in the study of the history of religion. Systematic theology, traditionally a discipline of describing absolutes in the form of law-like doctrines, seems to shake itself free of historical contingency through its appeal to the absolute, universal truth claimed to be central to and revealed through Christianity. Its sister discipline, historical theology, does not carry the same normative tone, but instead examines the ways in which doctrine has attempted a normative approximation of the absolute. Theology, Troeltsch says, is primarily concerned with normative knowledge, which it derives, he argues, “from the history of religion instead of from scholastic theories of revelation or apologetics against philosophical systems,” in order to “give to the Christian world of thought a form that will correspond to the present religious and intellectual situation.” In other words, Troeltsch here accepts Ritschl’s claims about historicism but rejects his Hegelianism in the form of an absolute principle toward which Christianity is unfolding. What Troeltsch is after, then, is adescription of a theology that is able to maintain both intellectual and normative rigor while delimiting the two extremes of absolutism and relativism along non-universalizing lines through a unification of the two. He argues throughout the text that the absolute and the relative are inextricably linked, that both history and theology find their deepest meaning in their connection to the universal and the absolute as he now understands those terms. Troeltsch is arguing for a different understanding the absolute here, one that escapes both the problems he finds in the Hegelian understanding of history and those of traditional apologetics.

itroelt001p1This relationship, as Troeltsch understands it, raises interesting questions about the nature of theology as a discipline, and especially (as I mentioned in the first post) it’s relationship to the natural sciences and its place within the academy more broadly. As Troeltsch himself and later Troeltschian scholars note in detail, this question is central to The Absoluteness of Christianity: What are the constructive possibilities for a systematic theology that is necessarily bound to its own time and place with no appeal to be made to an absolute telos as its anchor?

The consensus among much of the theological community has long been that Troeltsch’s project ultimately failed, primarily because it could not adequately reconcile the poles of absolutism and relativism; hence, theology snapped back toward the former in the theology of Karl Barth. But I think a re-examination of Troeltsch’s theology by paying particular attention to his articulation of a properly scientific theology in light of Heinrich Rickert’s philosophy of history, especially the ways in which the latter outlines the process of concept formation in both the natural and historical sciences, could be fruitful in clarifying the relationship between theology and religious studies/sociology of religion and even theology and the hard sciences. Furthermore, it seems to me that one of the primary faults in traditional criticism of Troeltsch has been to read his project as attempting to reconcile two sides of a binary, that is, find some sort of “third way” between them, rather than as an attempt to articulate a means of doing away with that binary all together.

A constructive Neo-Kantian Troeltschian theology can probably best be understood as a normative-historical science which develops concepts of historical individuals out of a non-essential value and general concept apparatus that constitutes the “core” of Christianity itself. In Rickertian terms, constructive theology for Troeltsch proceeds in the development of historical concepts in relation to a set of values taken as ahistorical but always manifested historically as well as a set of general concepts that establish a permeable boundary for theological discourse. The important Rickertian resource in this move is the way in which concepts are related to reality itself: historical concepts more closely reflect our actual experience of reality than any other type of concept, whereas general concepts are empty of all empirical content and instead hold validity for reality (see Part 1.) Neither concept type has any ontological content; they are only two different ways of regarding our experience of reality. I read Troeltsch, therefore, as advancing a viable material-ideational strategy (not in a binary sense) for systematic theology, one that is necessarily dependent upon the historical and social situation in which it is produced yet is still able to secure the normative authority necessary to still be called a properly constructive theology.

Troeltsch sets up the historical problem as it exists in the study of religion in particular, although it is clear he thinks that the problematic exists in historical study more generally as well. Troeltsch’s terminology, relativity and absoluteness, roughly parallels Rickert’s distinction between the individual and the general when referring to concepts. Troeltsch writes, “Relativity simply means that all historical phenomena are unique, individual configurations acted on by influences from a universal context that comes to bear on them in varying degrees of immediacy.” Both are concerned with the potential meaninglessness that the infinite manifold of experience presents us with. However, Troeltsch brings to bear the normativity which theology and religion more generally demand out of the manifold—to transcend the manifold—on his formation of the problem. In other words, the problem is not simply that the selection of historical individuals has the potential to be arbitrary given the nature of empirical experience but more importantly in the theological context such selection has the seemingly obvious potential of lacking any authoritatively normative content at all thereby rendering such selection non-theological by definition.

The result of this tension between theology and history has been recourse to the absolute. The parallel between this term and the function of general concepts and universal laws is not quite as clear nor is it as strong. Troeltsch identifies two ways in which the same absolute has been regarded in the history of the church. The first, Troeltsch refers to as “the apologetic of supernatural, orthodox theology”—namely, the primary tradition of the Church writ large—which, though it may admit the historical contingency of human institutions (i.e. the Church), still holds that these institutions have access to a universal, absolute truth that is outside of history. The second and Troeltsch’s primary target he refers to as the “evolutionary apologetic.” This is the absolute according to Hegel’s speculative philosophy, which similarly posits an absolute of which all of history partakes and toward which all history is unfolding. Under both methods, however, the absolute is more or less the same thing: an ahistorical, universal guiding principle. It is the absolute telos under which all historical individuals are subsumed. It is in this way that doctrines can achieve the status of “divine law” if they are posited as universal and outside of the scope of history.

Troeltsch’s aim, then, is to resolve the tension between history and theology—between the relative and the absolute. Troeltsch writes that the problem of resolving this tension is “the problem of how to discern, in the relative, tendencies toward the absolute goal. Or, to state the problem more accurately: How does one work out a fresh, durable, and creative synthesis that will give the absolute the form possible to it at a particular moment and yet remain true to its inherent limitation as a mere approximation of true, ultimate, and universally valid values? That is the nub of the problem, and it cannot be set aside either by the naturalization of history or by skeptically oriented specialization. It arises directly out of the material of history itself.” As we saw with Rickert, the material of history is a selected material according to specific value relations, and it is in the process of selection that Troeltsch most radically departs from Rickert, particularly in his understanding of value relations and valuation. In short, Troeltsch does not think that value neutrality is actually possible or even desirable in historical study broadly conceived. In Part 4, we’ll turn to an examination of Troeltsch’s proposal for a solution.

 

Theology, Science, and Critical Discourse (Part 2)

More time than I would’ve liked has passed between part 1 and 2 of this series. I’ve been in Berlin since the beginning of July improving my German and will be here until the end of August. My intensive language course has left little time for comprehensive exam preparation, let alone blog posts! Still, I’ve managed to find some time to crank out some reflections here. In this post, I begin to move into a discussion of theology by first considering Ernst Troelthsch’s mentor Albrecht Ritschl. Ritschl provides the second stream which flows into the river of Troeltsch’s thought and is important to consider so that we can see what Troeltsch is doing in his project (which will be the third post, contrary to what the first post says.)

In the first part of these posts, I laid out Heinrich Rickert’s philosophy of history which includes the justification for a viable human science on the basis of historical individuals and value relations. I also pointed out the obvious ways in which this methodology went very bad very quickly and remained so until the latter half of the 20th century when critical discourses were finally able to diagnose the various problems that underlay methodology in the social sciences. I’m especially interested in how theology fits into this story, particularly in whether theology is interested in the general or the individual (as Rickert understands those terms) or if instead it can somehow take an interest in both that doesn’t fall into the traps that Rickert’s philosophy does. Aside from what, from the perspective of critical discourse, is the impossibility of value neutrality and indeed the necessity of examining value neutral discourses to expose their underlying colonial, patriarchal, etc. commitments, Rickert’s insistence on the objectivity of values (i.e. value neutrality) seems to expose him to the precise criticism which he levels against positivism in the first part of The Limits of Concept Formation in Natural Science.

Remember that objectivity in the strict Kantian sense does not mean and should not be equated with knowing things as they are in themselves, i.e. knowing reality as it actually is. What Rickert is insisting on instead is to regard values as objects–but this is tricky. Values, we’ll remember from the last post, though they are abstracted from empirically reality, have no empirical reality when taken as the objective ground of historical study–they are wholly ideal. His insistence on this point is a little confusing since it seems like the point he is wanting to make is that these values are basically additional categories of perception, both empirically real and transcendentally ideal. Thinking back to Kant, we’ll remember that in order for perception to even be possible, these categories are required–they’re what make it possible for us to talk about empirical reality at all. But they themselves are not observable within empirical reality (e.g. Hume’s famous refutation of the observation of a necessary cause and effect.) The problem is that value is not a demonstrable condition of perception, and Rickert is aware of this. Values, then, essentially become general categories of value. This is the best Rickert can do. Like universal laws of science, these objective values which are meant to ground historical study are universal, general categories of value that must hold some sort of validity for empirical reality for every human being across time and space. His explanation of objective values, then, seems to slip general categorization back into historical study through a back door. If we were to really dig into an analysis of how these values operate, we would see that they’re not quite the same as the sorts of universal laws of human history and behavior that positivists in the late 19th century were trying to abstract from historical study. Still, we cannot deny that in order for Rickert’s system to work, he [thinks he] needs an objective ground; otherwise, historical study is arbitrary. The problem, of course, is not that Rickert insisted on the wrong ground but that he argued for an objective ground in the first place.

That’s a well worn path, and I don’t mean to rehash something that now comes so naturally and is so obvious to cultural theory and critical discourse to the point of seeming banal, essentially behaving as a first principle of sorts. However, the way that Troeltsch comes to wrestle with mediating between the poles of what he calls “absolutism” and relativism–and in 1902–with regard to theology is, to my mind, rather revolutionary. However, we first have to get a handle on the other, theological side of things, though with regard to both the social sciences and theology, Troeltsch is wrestling with absolutism, ethical neutrality, etc. Troeltsch was perhaps the final prominent member of the Ritschlian School and arguably Albrecht Ritschl’s sharpest critic. This garnered a lot of attention for Troeltsch from younger theologians and students, notably Paul Tillich, who were seeking out alternatives to the classical liberal theology that Ritschl’s work embodies. (My own thoughts on Troeltsch’s membership in classical liberalism will have to wait for another post. In short, I don’t think he belongs there.)

One of the difficulties in undertaking a commentary on Troeltsch’s departure from Ritschl and its philosophical underpinnings is that both Ritschl and Troeltsch are usually considered, in part, neo-Kantian theologians, Ritschl influenced primary by Hermann Loetze and Troeltsch by Rickert/Weber. Ritschl founded what is typically referred to as the “History of Religions” school of theology.  He was trained under the historicist biblical scholar and theologian F.C. Baur in the mid-19th century. This was a period of great transition and turmoil for theology, philosophy, and the study of history.Ritschl The Geisteswissenschaften were already emerging (well before Rickert came on the scene), and the question of the nature of history as a proper object of study was experiencing both reactions against and defenses of the dominant Hegelian idealist paradigm of history. Most important for the fields of study within Christianity was the question of historical context: Could theology be understood as a properly scientific discipline if its scholars presupposed Christianity to be the absolute religion? Baur’s response was a decisive “No.” However, his students, most notably the biblical scholar David Friedrich Strauss and Ritschl polemicized against this view, Strauss appearing to be the more orthodoxly Hegelian of the two. Ritschl insisted that the question of presuppositions was the wrong one to ask. Christianity is one of a number of major world religions, and, so Ritschl argued, it is only from the context of the history of religions as seen from the point of view of Christianity that the latter could be truly understood in its religious form, thus attempting to eliminate or at least delimit the problems Baur identified with assuming Christianity as the absolute religion.

As mentioned, Ritschl was also heavily influenced by the then burgeoning neo-Kantian philosophy, particularly that of Hermann Lotze. A full exploration of this influence is beyond the scope of this already lengthy post, but a few points are of interest: 1) Lotze affirms Kant’s view that the ethical will is the will of God. 2) However, Lotze departs from Kant in positing religion as a three-part relationship, I-God-Man. 3) He further departs from Kant in positing the Kingdom of God not as a kingdom of future ends toward which we infinitely approximate but as an actuality in the present. Finally, Lotze argues that doctrine and dogma can never be transmitted in an account of their actual truth. Instead, their transmission contains an “intuitive seeming” which makes intelligible what is ultimately inexpressible and maintains a true relation to the actual.

The primary effect of this influence is Ritschl’s rejection of an absolutely transcendent will in favor of a more contextualized understanding of the human person and agency. Ritschl, however, still maintained Idealist tendencies, particularly on the concept of the absolute in theology. For Ritschl, theology requires an organizing principle, and, according to Ritschl, the organizing principle of all Christian thought is the Kingdom of God, a view he began to develop as early as 1858. In his magnum opus, The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation (1874), Ritschl writes, “The Kingdom of God is the summum bonum which God realises in men; and at the same time it is their common task, for it is only through the rendering of obedience on man’s part that God’s sovereignty possesses continuous existence.” This definition reflects the mid-19th century tension between historically bound human beings and transcendent theological principles. The Kingdom is a good that is imparted to humans by God, something they receive passively; however, it can only be realized in the moral striving of human beings toward it as their goal. It is thus dependent upon human will, which Ritschl does not view as itself transcendent the way Kant did. Christianity solves this apparent problem by means of a transcendent connection of the two ideas in the logic of grace. Therefore, the divine act of the gift is what ultimately constitutes the ground of the highest good. Human beings only contribute insofar as their moral striving is done out of faith in Christ. In other words, membership in the Kingdom of God is the condition for any human contribution toward it’s reality in the present or future. Johannes Zachhuber writes, “In this dual sense, the Kingdom of God correlates with human activity in the spirit of justice: it is its ground, purpose, and means. Its function as telos corresponds to the divine end in itself, which is dogmatically expressed in the idea of the Son as the ‘necessary and eternal object of God’s love: The Kingdom of God is therefore the ethical exposition of divine love as an end in itself.’”

Of particular importance for our purposes here is the absolute character of the Kingdom of God. Ritschl makes it clear that this is in no way to be identified as an earthly kingdom, i.e. as a State. Its operations in how it understands wrongdoing (sin), punishment (separation from God), and justification (removal of separation) completely transcend any worldly handling of these terms. This extends to all other religions as well. In other words, in asserting the Kingdom of God as the organizing principle for all Christian thought, Ritschl is also asserting the absoluteness of Christianity over all other religions. All human development is striving toward the ideal of the Kingdom of God. The Hegelian influence on this point is obvious. From this perspective, however, it is difficult to see how Ritschl can reconcile this understanding of the absoluteness of Christianity with his assertion that Christianity must be understood in the context of the history of religions more generally. This was not a problem for Hegel, who paid no attention to the world religions and was arguably only concerned with Western Europe. But for Ritschl, it imparts a nagging relativism which he does not seem to take seriously enough. Indeed, this is the primary criticism which his student Ernst Troeltsch leveled against him, to which we turn in the next post.

 

Why Jesus is still crucified and not resurrected; or, Venturing into the thinking of Being

Christ is crucified and resurrected. But while Christ has been crucified, existentially or something, he has yet to be resurrected in that same manner. The Christ of this present is the crucified Christ; to focus on the yet-to-be-realized resurrected Christ is to ignore the immanent.

That is, Christ is resurrected, but only after the pain and suffering of the cross has been lived; the truth of resurrection is a transcendent one, one that is beyond what is present and has been present.

We have it backwards. To celebrate the resurrection as a having-happened for 364 days and the crucifixion as simply a step in that process to be remembered only on one day out of the year is not only bad theology, it’s unhelpful and dangerous.

Instead, the daily remembrance needs to be of the having-happened of the crucifixion, and the future-promise of the resurrection. “All our heart’s courage is the echoing response to the first call of Being which gathers our thinking into the play of the world” (Martin Heidegger: Poetry, Language, Thought, 9). The resurrection is yet in play, because the crucifixion is still the reality. So, in the days after Easter, when we return to “business as usual” or whatever, the usual must be the crucifixion. We cannot take Christ down off the cross. He must be remembered as nailed to the cross, crying out in pain, yet remembering too that this will not always be the having-happened reality; it is the tension between the having-happened reality of the crucifixion with the not-always-having-happened hope found in the resurrection that must be lived in.

“The oldest of the old follows behind us in our thinking and yet it comes to meet us. That is why thinking holds to the coming of what has been, and is remembrance” (Heidegger 10). This is, in part, an epistemological claim, but I think it goes beyond that; the “coming of what has been” is not a happening that can be taken for granted as assured in its coming. For Christians, the centrally important element of the crucifixion/resurrection narrative is, presumably, the Trinity, the Godhead, the Other-than, the eternal YHWH, or something. In particular, this is a “call of Being,” to use Heidegger’s words, that takes us not into abstraction, generality, or future-focus, but into the present, into the pain, and into death.

Grab a glass of wine. Preferably red. Maybe some bread. Ideally 12-grain.

This is not just a plea from a faggot for the minorities who are pushed down on a regular basis. This is not truth for only some people. The world has pain. It is “expected of the attentive [person] that [she] faces creation as it happens” (Martin Buber: Between Man and Man, 19). It should be expected of the Christian that she turn towards the resurrection while standing in the crucifixion.

Apocalyptic Utopia: Hope, Resurrection, and the Church that need not survive

In his highly praised and influential study of the notion of apocalyptic in antiquity, Christopher Rowland maintains that “apocalyptic is more than a matter of eschatology.”[1] I want to affirm this, but not in the way in which Rowland intended. It seems to me that apocalyptic is more than how eschatology has typically been thought. Apocalyptic is, as J. Louis Martyn explains, “the birth of a new way of knowing both present and future.”[2] Apocalyptic is an expectancy of God’s action of crucifying this evil age and resurrecting it with the new creation. To think apocalyptic is to think the gospel’s proclamation of God’s power, in Christ, breaking into the present. I propose here, that to think apocalyptic is to necessarily think utopia, and to think these together is not primarily to think at all but to live and work for liberation.[3]

Gustavo Gutiérrez in his groundbreaking work A Theology of Liberation contends that commitment to God’s liberating work in history ––the creation of a just society––is one that lives in abandoned confidence to the future. “This commitment is an act open to whatever comes.”[4] In hopes of living into and working for a new society and a new humanity, Gutiérrez proposes that one must live not in remembrance but in critical analysis of the present in orientation towards the future.[5] A turn to the future is necessarily linked to an urgent and critical questioning of the established order in its “historical contemporaneity” because only those benefiting from the present desire to uphold it.[6] Those being crushed by the ‘historical contemporaneity’ find hope in the future only by way of a subversion of the present.

This shift to the future, this eschatological problem, is, according to Gutiérrez, “a renewal of the theology of hope.”[7] Hope is a political reality; hope is a turn to the future that, as already addressed above, subverts the established order. Hope is an expectation of the future; it is a “not-yet” projected into the future as one works for transformation of the present in expectancy of the future.[8] In other words, to hope is to wait in active expectation of God’s apocalyptic action.

We hope in the promise of resurrection, for the resurrected Christ is humanity’s future. The promise of resurrection is a criticism of all that is because it is an undoing of the present order. This hope in the death and resurrection of Christ as our future is one that must be rooted in historical praxis for it is our “perilous and hopeful present.”[9] To hope is to abandon any grasping of the future, for in hoping one receives the future as a gift. Hope is an active waiting of the future in the present; “true generosity towards the future consists in giving everything to the present.”[10] To hope, to be open to the God who comes in Jesus Christ, is to be liberated from history while utterly immersed in it.

By utopia, I mean to use it in the way in which Gutiérrez has elucidated. The term utopia is used by Gutiérrez to further illuminate what he means by an historical initiative to create a new society and a new humanity. But it is not the concept of utopia that leads peoples to work for liberation, according to Gutiérrez; rather, the utopian vision comes from people who experience the underbelly of history, those who are being crushed by the powers and whose only hope is revolutionary liberation. Utopia “is characterized by its relationship to present historical reality.”[11] Utopia is a movement into future that is “not-yet” but is to be achieved––it is not as a restoration of “lost paradise.”[12] Moreover, it is not merely a reforming of the current and established order; instead, utopia is a complete upheaval and rejection of the prevailing system. In the utopian vision, the present evil age is to be completely struck at its root in movement towards a new future. “…utopia is revolutionary and not reformist.”[13] If utopia does not result in historical, concrete praxis, it is an abstraction of reality, according to Gutiérrez. Utopia is a transformation of what exists by way of an “emergence of a new social consciousness and new relationships among persons.”[14] And it is only the poor who can proclaim such a utopia.

In short, to think apocalyptic is to think of abandoned living to God’s open future irrupting in history. To think of apocalyptic is to think of hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; a hope that subverts the present in its active waiting of a future that is not yet. It is a hope that throws itself on the crucified and resurrected Christ; that is, throws itself on the grace that “crucifies nature in order to bring new life out of nothing.”[15] Finally, to think apocalyptic is to think utopia, that is, the revolutionizing and liberation of history by way of this active hope in the resurrected and crucified Christ.

I want to conclude with some reflection on what it might look like for the Church to be revolutionized by apocalyptic utopia. I have found that even with thinkers like Gutiérrez who propose this radical utopian (and, I argue, apocalyptic) vision, do not often apply such claims to the Church. Often these thinkers desire to “uncenter” the Church as the exclusive place of salvation (this questioning of the ecclesiocentrality of the Church is something very important it seems to me), however, I wonder if it is enough to merely “uncenter” the Church? If the Church is complicit in the oppressive social system, and, even further, helps perpetuate the dominant ideology of the prevailing social system that crushes the poor, is “uncentering” enough? Gutiérrez proposes that to address this problem the Church to cast its lots with the poor for a more just society. However, I question whether a more just society can be created if the institutions that oppress the poor––which the Church is involved in––are not first toppled? Moreover, could it not be that the Church––as complicit in the prevailing social system and dominant ideology–– needs to collapse, too? If Gutiérrez maintains, as he does in regard to the powers that be, that oppression needs to be struck at the root, and if the utopian vision of revolution over reformation were applied to the Church, would the Church really need to survive?

I want to agree with much of what thinkers like Gutiérrez propose in regards to the Church, I affirm that the Church is to turn to the world (I might even say that Church only ever occurs as sent into the world); and I affirm that the Church is to cast its lot with poor. However, what troubles me about thinkers like Gutiérrez is that they are unwilling to denounce the Church as it is complicit in the present structure and the current power it wields. Instead, they take the current location of the Church as given, and rather than question it, they propose that the Church use such power to influence others on behalf of the poor. Can the Church cast its lot with the poor, that is, intermingle its body with the crucified bodies in its midst, without first striking the root of its own power with revolutionary praxis? It seems to me that the Church need not survive. I mean this in two ways. First, it seems to me that the Church, as it is complicit in the present system, needs to collapse like every other oppressive power. Secondly, if the Church does not live for itself, and is to cast its lot with the oppressed, then the Church is to be continually crucified. If the Church abandons its life to God for the world, then the Church, it seems to me, could never survive.


[1] Martinus C. De Doer, “Paul, Theologian of God’s Apcalypse.”

[2] J. Louis Martyn, “Apocalyptic Antinomies in the Letter to the Galatians.”

[3] “The dialectical aspect of the issue requires thought-passion—not to want to understand it but to understand what it means to break in this way with the understanding and thinking and immanence, in order then to lose the last foothold of immanence, the eternity behind, and to exist, situated at the edge of existence, by virtue of the absurd.” Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 569.

[4] Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation, 121.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 122.

[7] Ibid., 123.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 124.

[10] Ibid., 125.

[11] Gutiérrez, 135.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 136.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Peter Kline, “Queer Theory and Apocalyptic: The Upbuidling That Lies in the Thought That in Relation to God We Are Always in the Wrong.”