Thursday, October 04, 2018

The old and the new and the church

We must first remember the general truth that when the New Testament speaks of Jesus Christ and His community it really speaks of the goal (and therefore of the origin and beginning) of all earthly things.  Jesus Christ and His community is not an additional promise given to men.  The existence and history of Israel with Yahweh was a promise.  The reality of Jesus Christ and His community does not continue this history.  It is not a further stage in actualisation of the divine will and plan and election which are the purpose of creation.  It concludes the process.  It is the complete fulfilment of the promise.  It is the goal and end of all the ways of God.  It is the eschatological reality.
Thus Karl Barth (in CD III/2, 301).  This passage takes place in a section examining the nature of humanity, and particularly the mystery of marriage, the meaning of which is revealed only through Christ.  (As an aside, it's hard, knowing what we know, to read Barth's profound and deeply moving treatment of marriage as a sign of the gospel.)  But I didn't particularly want to write about that; just to draw out one phrase.

The reality of Jesus Christ and His community does not continue this history.

This got me thinking about one of the things I struggle with in some Reformed thinking, which is the massive emphasis on continuity between the OT and the NT.  To me, it misses something which Barth grasps here.  The history of Israel is a prophetic history, a history which is fulfilled in Christ.  (Barth discusses the significance of the ongoing existence of historical Israel outside the church elsewhere).  But the church is not just another form of Israel, looking back just as Israel looked forward.  The church is an eschatological reality - indeed, "it is the eschatological reality".

This matters.  The change wrought by the presence of Christ is nothing short of the fulfilment of all God's purposes for the world.  All that remains is for the world to come to see this, and to enter in to the enjoyment of it (or not).  The discontinuity between Israel and the church is nothing less than the discontinuity between the old creation and the new.  The church is not just a community of people living in faith and hope and expectation, though of course it is that too; the church as its existence is founded in the reality of Jesus Christ is the new world.  Everything is accomplished, because Christ is not a prophet but the fulfilment of all prophecy - "someone in whom everything is not fulfilled would not be Jesus Christ".

I'd want to qualify that the church is only this eschatological reality indirectly, in its grounding in Christ and not in its own internal being.  That means the reality can be seen only by faith.  And yet the life of the church - and the church only has life in so far as its life is given by the Spirit through its union with Christ - is to stand for, to symbolise, to make visible to those given eyes to see, the eschatological reality that the old world has passed and away, and behold, everything is made new.

History doesn't just trot on.  The Incarnation wasn't a blip in an otherwise unaffected history.  The death of Christ was the end of the world.  The resurrection of Christ was the new creation.

Nothing's the same any more.


  1. Yes, I've seen some things that treat the church as a rather uneccessary restructuring of the project to take dominion over the earth, etc. Far more straightforward for Jesus to be made an earthly King and launch the New World Order there and then.

    But no, I agree that the church is the end goal because complete environmental sanctification was only possible before the fall in this world, and now awaits us on the other side.

    Which makes the NT church's foolish, useless peacableness a perfect witness to it being truly the end of all things accomplished as pictured in Isaiah 2, not a tool for wider civilizational purposes.

  2. Michael9:37 am

    Thanks for this post, Dan.
    I'm been thinking a lot about the relationship of Israel, Jesus and the church recently as I've become more and more aware of the 'New Christian Zionists' (their term not mine), advanced by theologians like Gerald McDermott (Kendall Soulen is similar).
    What do you think of the spate of recent literature on Barth's support for the modern nation-state of Israel? For example, Mark Lindsay and Katherine Sonderegger have both written monographs on Barth and Israel, praising his theological advocacy for the creation of Israel (which he justified with respect to his doctrine of providence and doctrine of reconciliation). I wonder whether you think that Barth's theological justification for Israel being given the land is justified.

    1. Hi Michael. I have been blissfully unaware of Barth's support for the establishment of the state of Israel! I suspect I would disagree with him, or at least I would say that although I think God has indeed providentially been behind this development it is not in itself obviously good or related to the Kingdom. See here.