Sunday, July 11, 2010

"How God Acts: Creation, Redemption, and Special Divine Action" by Denis Edwards (Pt. 3)

In chapter 2 of Denis Edward’s exciting new book “How God Acts”, he sets the foundation for his theology of divine action upon the “Christ-event” – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit amongst the early Christians. He discusses two interrelated questions in the chapter: first, what did Jesus think about the nature of divine action? Second, what else can we learn about divine action from analyzing the death, resurrection, and outpouring of the Spirit?

Jesus’ life and ministry revolved entirely around his announcement – and enactment(s) – of the kingdom of God. What does this mean? Edwards dives into this question via the parables, healing, table fellowship, and community of Jesus. In all four of these aspects of the life of Jesus, he is not only calling for participation in the kingdom that is in some way present now, but also acting out the kingdom in anticipation of it’s future arriving fullness. The key insights are Jesus’ call, through words and deeds, to inclusive, nonviolent, loving communities of healing and liberation. As Edward’s writes, “I see Jesus’ actions as ‘fragmentary,’ ‘historical,’ ‘limited,’ and ‘finite’ anticipations of salvation to come.” That is, the kingdom is both present and future, and we are called to participate in it now. God is not a remote God, but one who constantly participates with humans within history. Quoting Marcus Borg, Denis Edward’s proposes a “participatory eschatology,” where God needs our participation to bring about his purposes. The choice between God does it or we do it is a false dichotomy. God chooses to respect our autonomy and the integrity of the natural world, and work through entirely natural processes to bring about his purposes. God waits lovingly upon creation to respond, to repent, to participate in the coming kingdom.

In light of this understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus as participatory-kingdom oriented, what do we make of the cross? Jesus dies as a result of his radical life message – his passion. Edwards believes that Jesus ponders the significance of his death, and sees it as meaningful in some way, but does not believe God willed the death of Jesus. Despite the rejection and murder of God’s bearer of good news by human beings, God transforms the unexpected tragedy of the cross into a means of liberation and redemption. Over against traditional evangelical dogma, “Jesus’ mission was to form a community of mutual love and forgiveness instead of domination, and it proved to be a failure…[but] Jesus accepts his failure and death and entrusts all to God to bring God’s purposes to fulfillment through his death.” This act of self-giving love is answered in resurrection and Pentecost – God’s self-bestowal upon creation. The kingdom is made present through Jesus death, resurrection, and the Spirit-formed community of followers of the Way. God thus waits on natural processes and human freedom to accomplish his will. In the cross, God also enters into and embraces the suffering of the world (costs of evolution). Here we have a theology of kenosis (Moltmann) and divine self-bestowal (Rahner). The cross thus becomes a self-definition of God, revealing a divine power that respects the autonomy of human freedom and natural processes, but the resurrection reveals that God will keep his promise of justice and redemption for creation.

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