Thursday, 22 June 2006

Eberhard Jüngel: seven theses on the being of Jesus Christ

[I have selected and translated these theses from the long list of theses presented in Jüngel’s article on “the being of Jesus Christ”]

1. The death of Jesus has constitutive meaning for the being of Jesus Christ as true man and true God. The present work of the being of Jesus Christ is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, understood as God’s identification with the crucified, dead and buried man Jesus.

3. The Christian tradition about the death of Jesus is shaped not so much by Jesus’ earthly life as by the interpretations of the end of his life which were based on faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

10. In the judgement and self-understanding of the Easter disciples and the first Christian communities, the resurrection of Jesus was not viewed primarily as a confirmation of the claim of the earthly Jesus, but was rather experienced as the soteriological qualification of Jesus’ death, and only in this way was his earthly claim also proved right.

11. The meaning of the death of Jesus, revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, comes to speech in faith in God’s identification with the crucified man Jesus.

12. In the death of Jesus Christ, God’s judgment over the life of sinners is executed, as God takes the consequences of this judgment upon himself and so reconciles the world to himself.

13. In the abandonment of Jesus Christ unto death, the relationship of the Son to the Father takes place as trust in God amidst Godforsakenness (Gottvertrauen in Gottverlassenheit).

15. In the death of Jesus Christ, God has come nearer to humanity than it could ever be to itself.

—Eberhard Jüngel, “Das Sein Jesu Christi als Ereignis der Versöhnung Gottes mit einer gottlosen Welt,” in Entsprechungen: Gott, Wahrheit, Mensch (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1986), pp. 276-84.


byron said...

1. ... the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, understood as God’s identification with the crucified, dead and buried man Jesus.

Doesn't this process of divine identification begin prior to the resurrection? What of the baptism and transfiguration? Are they to be explained away as later retrojections of easter experiences? What of Jesus' own claims to be and do for Israel what Yahweh was and did?

kim fabricius said...

As you know I am a great fan of Jüngel, but it is always good when one brilliant theologian gets in the face of another, especially when one is a young Turk while the other is an old sage.

All too briefly - but it is essential reading - the rising-star Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart gets in Jüngel's face in The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (2003). In his discussion of the divine apatheia (pp. 155-67), Hart mentions Moltmann, Pannenberg and Robert Jenson too, but he is most splenetic about Jüngel, whose thought he describes as "systematic" yet "incoherent", "with its liberal lashings of late romantic nihilism." Ouch.

Hart's main contention (against a strict interpretation of Rahner's Rule) is to deny "that history is the theater within which God . . . finds or determines himself as God." "If God's identity is constituted in his trinitarian triumph over evil," Hart declares, "then evil belongs eternally to his identity, and his goodness is not goodness as such but a reaction." Most radically, "Even the cross of Christ does not determine the nature of the divine love, but rather manifests it, because there is a more original outpouring of God that . . . always already surpasses every abyss of godforsakenness and pain that sin can impose between the world: an outpouring that is in its proper nature indefectible happiness."

The image of cats and pigeons comes to mind!

D.W. Congdon said...

Byron, you raise a good question, but I think a sympathetic reading of Jüngel would recognize that he focuses on the death of Jesus because it is the radical center out of which everything else finds its meaning. That does not deny that the incarnation itself makes all this possible, but the incarnation only finds its significance in that Jesus dies and is raised again. Thus, God's identification with the Crucified One is normative for all that we say about the being of the triune God.

Frankly, David Bentley Hart is not only a bad theologian, he is also a poor example of what it means to act as a Christian. I have little respect for him. After reading his book and seeing him speak in person, I have come to the conclusion that the theologians he maligns are far superior. Jüngel is not the only one; Hart attacks Barth and, while appreciative at points, von Balthasar as well. This is not to deny that Hart accomplishes some good things in his book, but his dismissal of great theologians in usually a couple sentences or less is a very poor witness indeed. I question whether he has really read them at all.

In the case of Jüngel, to think that he has subordinated God to the power of evil is simply foolish. God is love in that God is victorious over nothingness, over the power of the abyss. But this does not exhaust God's infinitely rich being. I would have more to say, but I don't have time.

kim fabricius said...

Thanks for that D.W.

Mind, Hart comes well-recommended (Wainwright, Soskice, Hütter, Placher, and in a blurb Milbank calls him "already the best living American systematic theologian." But then Hart and Milbank have at least this in common: almost impenetrable prose!

Still, a "bad" theolgian? Certainly unkind and haughty as hell, and so, yes, not a good role model. His invective against Jüngel, whom you quite rightly say he does not examine closely, is well over the top - and it's softball compared to what he says about Emmanuel Levinas!. You'll know Karl Barth's letter to a colleague where he writes: "You say many correct things. But what is correct is not always true. Only what is said kindly is true. You do not speak kindly in a single line."

Still, Hart is not alone in wanting to put some serious and pointed questions to post-Moltmann suffering-God theologians, particularly in the area of the divine apatheia. Do you know Thomas Weinandy's Does God Suffer? (2000)? John Webster himself praises it as "theology at its best". And Weinandy, like Hart, wants to take issue with Jüngel's statement that the cross "has destroyed the axiom of absoluteness, the axiom of apathy, and the axiom of immutability, all of which are unsuitable axioms for the Christian concept of God". Also, like Hart, Weinandy is no mug philosophically, and has an immense grasp of the patristic material.

Hart, it seems to me, also does important rehabilitative work on some much maligned theologians - like Anselm - defending Cur Deus Homo even against his Orthodox mentor Vladimir Lossky. And in his focus on God's beauty he is a worthy successor of von Balthasar.

Maybe Hart just has some growing up to do.

Ben Myers said...

Yes, although Hart is not always correct in his interpretation of other theologians, he is a tremendously gifted and powerful thinker in his own right.

It's sobering to remember how often and how deeply Barth himself could misunderstand other theologians (e.g. Calvin, Zwingli, Bultmann, Pannenberg -- not to mention Schleiermacher!). Misunderstanding is never a virtue; but, in my books, constructive theological brilliance covers a multitude of sins.

D.W. Congdon said...

Hart is probably worth his own discussion at some point here. I agree that the man is intelligent and well-read, but he appears to be smarter than I think he actually is — precisely because of his prose. In other words, I get the sense that pretentiousness has replaced actual creativity in a number of areas. He speaks on other people's terms while rejecting them. And I am not convinced by his interaction with postmodern philosophy that he has a grasp of philosophy as a discipline. He seems to be engaging in a "radical orthodoxy" method while rejecting all these philosophers and raising up Gregory of Nyssa as the answer to our postmodern woes. In the end, it feels like an apologetic for Greek theology at the expense of the important contributions by truly good modern theologians whom he maligns as a way of getting them out of the picture.

Theologically, I classify Hart as theologian of creation — his defense of the analogia entis, beautiful section on creation, and mild panentheism (strong to some) all reinforce this view — while Jüngel is a theologian of the cross, as is Barth, though I might speak more broadly of Barth as a christocentric theologian. I think Barth and Jüngel have the better via theologia. Calling Hart "bad" is probably too strong; I don't much like the man, and what he has written has failed to convince me that he is offering something worthy of my close attention.

And yes, I am familiar with Weinandy, though I have yet to really read his works. Something I hope to do in due time.

Philsumpter said...

Perhaps Hart had grown up by the time he wrote this article on Jenson:

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