Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christ the King

Just prior to Advent, the Church once again commemorated the Feast of Christ the King. It marks a signature dimension to the tradition's portraits of Christ. ON this feast, we attribute to Christ the role of an almost mere ordinary human person, a monarach, a ruler, a king. Jamie Smith's latest book, Awaiting the King, not to mention N.T. Wright's How God Became King are prominent recent efforts to make this role of Christ, an aspect of his ministry, central. Within the lectionary's readings of late November were an abundance of clues about what Christ's kingship signifies and I was paying particular attention because of how kingship will feature in a book I want to write by 2020.

I have already completed a rough draft of what I now foresee to be the first volume in a trilogy of theological anthropology. Leaving a rough draft on one's computer for a few weeks this fall allowed me to sense a deepening sense of where it is headed, what improvements need to be made and what points in particular need to be brought out before the final manuscript gets sent out.

One of the vexing aspects of this text is how a proposal of theological anthropology will address the criteria of adequacy that have been laid down by those theologians who advocate a christological starting point in theological anthropology. Theologians such as Kathryn Tanner, Marc Cortez - and underlying all of them, Karl Barth - have striven to move theological anthropology toward a perspective "from above", towards the person of Christ. They thus seek to move it away from vague philosophical starting points that begin from sets of attributes or categories of thought about human nature. To a large extent, I support their methodological instincts. However, in the end, I think that theological anthropology stands to benefit from extensive attention to a careful exposition of human uniqueness and our toolkit of traits that mark us out as a species. For me, it is more "both/and" rather than "either/or".

This trilogy of mine will will therefore seek to account for connections between Christ's human nature and a comprehensive anthropology "from below". It is fitting, I think, to see in the triplex munus a concrete way of linking Christ to human nature. The triplex munus is a set of attributes identified with Christ by Reformation theologians who, it should be noted, build on the Catholic doctrine of analogy. They saw great significance in thinking of Christ as prophet, priest and king. These three roles are played by Christ in ways that are tied to his work or soteriological function, rather than his person as such. In this way, Christ is made more accessible to the ordinary believer.

In the first volume of my theological anthropology, the natural, evolutionary character of human nature contains within it the element of the prophetic. To be prophetic does not mean to speak about those key elements of our salvation exclusively. It must also need to address the ways in which our sinful state is in need of this salvation in the first place. Our sinful state is not necessarily a status that is freely chosen. Human behaviour is comprised of both the predisposition to act, an understanding of what we may do, a judgment of what we ought to do as well as the free decision to act. For example, the experience (and sin) of addiction is a prophetic cry for salvation. Addicts are predisposed to addiction, albeit in ways that are neither uniform nor predetermined. In a way, it is a secular acknowledgement of the potential to sin that occurs in a peculiar form of self-harm. Jesus' command to love one another as we love ourselves first presumes the love of self. Clearly, addicts contravene not only the command but also its presupposition. In this case, the natural human way of being in the world is also unnaturally set against our survival. The role of natural law morality may also be prophetic, in that it testifies to the way that nature is originally ordered to the good but whose goodness is obscured by the haze of sin and the privation of evil that are present in the disordered effects of Darwinian genes that end up distorting the goals of goodness to which we are originally ordered. Natural law arguments and addiction are covered in separate chapters of the first volume of this theological anthropology project.

The three volumes will cover: 1) theological anthropology, evolution and sin (the prophetic and Jesus), 2) theological anthropology and political theology (the kingly and Jesus) and 3) theological anthropology, virtue and sacrifice (with attention to the sinlessness of - and the priestly in - Jesus). 

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