Wednesday, April 06, 2005

We were talking/about the space between us all...

[n.b.--in the time since this was originally posted, obvious errors have been corrected (where they were spotted), and one italicized emendation made to move the emphasis away from the comments toward Bonhoeffer's ideas, which was the original intent. Further discussion of Bonhoeffer vis a vis S.K. is envisioned and encouraged.]

In comments below, left rev left this post card:
We want to know salvation; and we want to see it in this life.

In “The Penultimate” and “Preparing the Way,” Bonhoeffer is exploring the relationship between the ultimate, i.e. the Kingdom of God, and the penultimate, or the condition humanity finds itself in prior to being a part of the Kingdom of God. Within this question of eschatology is the concern of the responsibility of the Christian individual in the context of the penultimate, and the impact the ultimate may have on this responsibility.

Essentially, the ultimate is irrelevant in day to day dealings. The reality of the Church is the reality of its context in the world, which serves to justify the context of the world.

Of course, Bonhoeffer rejects both of these solutions as inadequate, although containing truth. The ultimate and the penultimate are not mutually exclusive but are in fact in existence together. The penultimate continues until such time as there is no context of a worldly reality. Yet into this reality there is an inbreaking of the Kingdom as living faith impacting the world around it.

The penultimate is actually defined by the ultimate. It is only through the knowledge and experience of the kingdom of God that Christians are aware of the time they are in as the penultimate. One must acknowledge the reality in which one dwells is not the ultimate; nevertheless, as we do not dwell in the ultimate yet, we must dwell in the penultimate to reach the ultimate. Justification by grace occurs within the context of penultimate. The penultimate prepares the way of the ultimate. I would refer to this as “almost realized eschatology.”

The Christian life straddles the reality of God and the reality of the world and participates in both. As the ultimate is known only by seeing it through the penultimate, the reality of God can only be known in the context of the world. However, a Christian’s actions in the penultimate should reflect the ultimate, and so prepare for the transformation of the reality of the world to become the reality of God. We know the kingdom through the context of God, but we know God, through the grace of God, in the context of the world.

In the emphasis of the penultimate as preparation for the ultimate, Bonhoeffer reflects the influence of Augustine’s teleological ethics that a Christian’s pursuit of a goal is carried out in the context of being in relationship with God. In a sense, the inner and outer conditions for receiving God's grace about which Bonhoeffer is concerned are reflective of the “true peace,” Augustine claims as the goal of Christian life. Specifically, the peace achieved in the penultimate is dependent upon seeing it within the context of the ultimate.

According to Bonhoeffer, a Christian acts in such a way as to prepare for the ultimate “for the love of Christ.” (266) This motivation implies an acceptance of the responsibility to respond to the commandment of loving your neighbor.

Certainly, there is an implication in Bonhoeffer that the common good and the eternal destiny are in someway connected in ultimate’s relationship to the penultimate and our relationships within the penultimate.

My take on Bonhoeffer's speculation in the context of SKs Knight of Faith is that although one lives in such a way as to seem divorced from the ultimate, in the sense that one does not focus on it, nevertheless, the ultimate will only be known in and through the act of living in the penultimate, a task the KoF addresses with joy and contentment.

In the picture of the KoF prsented in your post, there seems to be an abundance of material and physical complacency, but this does not correspond to a spiritual complacency. Indeed, his every act seems to stress an awareness and happiness with what goes on around him. Perhaps for SK, the KoF is risible in his lack of awareness of the ultimate, and Bonhoffer would probably agree that he does display this trait. Nevertheless, the embracing of the penultimate is imperative to attaining the ultimate. The KoF is as likely to do so as is the secluded ascthetic, for one can focus on God in one's heart, or in the faces of others, and both arrive in the Holy presence.
left rev., Jolly Menace
First: there is a direct line from Augustine through Luther (who was an Augustinian monk, until he decided on grace through faith) to Kierkegaard and Bonhoeffer (both Lutheran pastors).

Second: there's something interestingly Hellenistic (nay, almost Zeno-like) about the concern with the penultimate that must be prior to the ultimate. This intrigues me, but I can do no more than point it out, here, and dash on. Like Josh Marshall, I'll get back to that. (Yeah, right!)

Have to tread carefully here, as left rev. has shifted us from soteriology to eschatology, and Bonhoeffer works from the assumption that the kingdom of God is adventus, but not yet present. My eschatological kerygma, on the other hand (well, as opposed to Bonhoeffer's, which probably derives from Barth's) is that the basiliea tou theou is present now, and needs only to be realized. I'm not sure where S.K. would stand on that, though I suspect he'd be more sympathetic to Bonhoeffer than to me. But I'm going to try to hold on to left rev.'s point (and if I don't, may I be corrected), and yet move us back to soteriology (salvation; apologies for lapsing into jargon).

Let's start at the beginning: is the ultimate irrelevant in the context of day to day living? Well, depends on which "ultimate" is "ultimate." I would not place it on eschatology, but on soteriology. That shifts the ultimate from the "end times" to the "here and now," which replaces the concern with apocalypse with concern over the mysterium tremendums. Fear and trembling takes on it's soteriological orientation, not just its survivalistic one.

Okay, we've gotten that far. Let's see what else we can do.

"According to Bonhoeffer, a Christian acts in such a way as to prepare for the ultimate “for the love of Christ.” (266) This motivation implies an acceptance of the responsibility to respond to the commandment of loving your neighbor." But is "the love of Christ" separable from "loving your neighhor"? I don't ask that lightly, because this takes us back to the very Hellenestic (Zeno-like) distinction between "penultimate" and "ultimate." Is love of neighbor separable from love of God? Can I express one, without expressing the other? If so, what would that look like? I'm sure some distinction could be drawn, but is that distinction ultimately meaningful? Let me give an example: I had a neighbor once who was the epitome of Christian charity and love of neighbor, the absolute poster child for the concept; except (here's where the needle scratches across the record) he was an avowed atheist. The difference between him and a "knight of faith" was only in his profession of faith. But is that enough? If it is, then I can judge people based on their profession of faith. And yet even God tells Jeremiah: "I, God, test the heart" to learn what is in it, and Jesus says it is what comes out of a man that matters. If Luther couldn't know what was in his heart (that crisis of doubt led to his doctrine of justification by faith), how can I know what is in my neighbor's heart? Maybe he doesn't know himself! Maybe God is working through him, despite his lack of belief. Who am I to judge, except by what he does?

At this point this starts to sound like a meticulous take-down of "left rev.," and that's not the point at all. It has more to do with what I take to be Kierkegaard's point: why do we focus on the "ultimate" at all? In the case of the Knight of Faith, when we know it, what do we know? That the boundary is not so far from us after all? Why do we press to know what is at the boundaries? What do we hope to find there?

Which actually helps us pursue the discussion about soteriology.

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