The last couple of posts, and likely many of the future posts for this summer, are simply stream of consciousness writing to help me process the themes I'm studying for my comprehensive exams in the Fall. The first theme is Hope Theology. I'd love to have feedback and even challenges, I'm going to try and stay within the frameworks of each theme when interacting though - even where I disagree with the dialogue partners in that theme. Just to give you a heads up, my next theme traces Kingdom of God theology from Dodds to Fuellenbach (Ladd is a whole theme to himself!). But on with the show...
I mentioned that I would tackle grace and Christology in their own posts. Grace has been a really interesting pre-occupation for me. I have argued in the past that evangelicals have a pretty wimpy notion of grace, at least some of us do. It was really The Future of Hope (Volf and Katerberg) that convinced me of that. But, what has me thinking about the importance of our theology of grace is my growing yoga practice.
In yoga there is a lot of discussion about karma. It is actually quite nuanced, so to do it justice I need to acknowledge that there are karmic notions that place an impetus on grace, grace being an impulse that opens the possibility for us to exhibit good karma (prevenient grace perhaps). But typically the notion of karma is simple and attractive - if you do good then good will happen to you. Even Jesus affirms such a life philosophy through the golden rule. In fact this notion of karma is consistent throughout world religions. (Many naive Christian theologies are actually adaptations of this simple idea of karma.)
Karma is a way of trying to navigate the ambiguities of life while affirming a moral directive. Karma explains theodicy in a mechanistic causal relationship that is actually fatalistic, especially when expressed in terms of inherited karma. Consider the Hindu caste system, which attributes families of origin with karmic debt. What is interesting is that these systems and ideas fit well into the cyclic views of life experienced by agrarian societies. What goes around comes around and as the Jewish wisdom literature says, a curse does not arrive without a cause. But while there is a cyclic aspect to life, one that is helpful to acknowledge if you livelihood depends on seasonality, Judaism introduces a different thrust in history. History is not the endless repetition of karmic cycles, but rather a journey that is best articulated by a theology of grace.
Grace actually has nothing to do with responsibility. Although even the Apostle Paul will tell us that our response to grace should be nothing short of complete surrender. But grace never hinges on our actions. Rather grace begins and ends with God. Grace gives God the first and last word in every situation. Grace initiates our journey and grace leads us forward. The great symbol of this is the Exodus.
Recognizing the paradigmatic shift that the Exodus presents, Moltmann presents his critique of Christianity in a chapter called the Exodus Church (ToH). Yet, he doesn't focus on an exegetic (Gutierrez is worth reading here) but rather a critique. He shows the ways that Christianity has simply become mired in cultural expectations, robbed of a real vision of hope. This is clear in the indictment that missions are basically useless unless they inspire hope, I would add that any form of evangelism that does not engender hope is equally useless. Hope, in this case is rooted in the promise of God (ToH 328). Just as the Exodus leads a people to the promised land, so hope becomes our utopian (sorry Dodd) expectation in history. Grace is the mechanism of our participation in this hope.
Grace should rightly be seen as the activity of God (God alone) at work in the world undoing the ravages of sin. Grace functions always like an invitation. Like a gift it must be received, engaged with and enjoyed (or endured). "[W]e can have it only by confidently waiting for it and wholeheartedly seeking it." (ToH 326) Grace is the promoter of hope, the assurance that the project of the restoration and renewal of this world is God's own project. Grace is God entering into the suffering of this life for the sake of the whole world.