Ktismatics

28 December 2008

Doppelgänger Theory in Colossians 3 and Romans 6

Filed under: Christianity — ktismatics @ 11:54 am

It’s been said that Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians serves as a template for the letter to the Ephesians. Whether or not that’s the case, the passage on the “new man” in Colossians 3 closely parallels that in Ephesians 4 (the subject of the prior post), with some notable augmentations:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old man with its evil practices, and have put on the new man who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him — a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Col. 3:1-17)

The “therefore” that begins chapter 3 refers back to Paul’s reminder at the end of chapter 2 that following ascetic laws (“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”) and other forms of self-abasement have no value in eliminating fleshly indulgence. Stop paying attention to these worldly concerns, Paul tells his readers. Consider yourself dead to immorality and impurity. Instead, :keep seeking the things above,” “set your mind on the things above” (3:1-2).

Is Paul advocating a simplistic psychology here, along the lines of “ignore it and it will go away” combined with the power of positive thinking? Or is he envisioning a magical mystical transformation of the self, whereby the believer is able to draw directly on the power of God to overcome sin? These interpretations can’t be ruled out, but I think Paul’s main point is to emphasize that persistent immorality isn’t all that important in the long run. You are flesh: you will surely die, and when you do these fleshly shortcomings will die along with you. Paul suggests that, instead of obsessing about your continued failures — failures which will go away eventually anyway — pay attention to the things that will last. It’s the resurrection life that matters, a life characterized not by the absence of sin but by the presence of knowledge, compassion, patience, peace, and love. These are “the things above, where Christ is.”

…and have put on the new man who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (3:10)

As in Ephesians 4, the new man isn’t a static entity but rather a source of continuing vitality. Again the believer is encouraged to “lay aside” the old man and to “put on” the new. Again there’s the idea of the new man being a new creation in which the old-creation distinctions — Greek versus Jew, slave versus freeman — no longer hold.

* * *

The only remaining Biblical passage referring to the “old man,” though without the symmetrical reference to the “new man” we’ve seen in the other instances, appears in Romans:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Rom. 6:1-7)

In this passage the old/new symmetry remains unstated yet implicit. Each live man has a doppelgänger who is himself divided, being both dead and resurrected. The live man occupies a dead world that is divided against itself: Jew/Gentile, law/sin. In this dead world is a graveyard. By going into his grave, the live man enters a portal. The portal transports him from the dead world into the new creation, a living world where the old distinctions are dead. By passing through the portal of death the man is freed from these old distinctions by which he defined himself while alive in the dead world. Passing through the grave he arrives on the other side, dead but resurrected, a new man. But the portal is bidirectional: it’s possible to go back through the grave, to be reanimated inside the old creation, to re-emerge as a live man in the old world. But now the reanimated old man realizes that the whole world he left behind is a tomb, and that even while he was alive he was already a dead man walking. The resurrected new man, freed from the old distinctions of Jew/Greek and law/sin, cannot live inside the old dead creation. He has to turn around, go back down into the grave, come back out on the other side…

* * *

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry… But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old man with its evil practices, and have put on the new man who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. (Col. 3:5,9-10

In Romans 6:2 Paul says that he died to sin; then, in 7:4, he says he also died to the law, in order that he might be joined to the resurrected Christ. Paul repeats this thought in Galatians:

I through the Law am dead to the Law, that I might live to God. (Gal. 2:19

Now, in Colossians 3, Paul tells his readers to consider themselves dead to sin, but in the prior chapter he told them that ascetic self-denial wasn’t of any value. So which is it: dead to sin or dead to law? The general message is something like this: neither obedience to the law nor disobedience, neither self-denial nor self-gratification, will bring you into the life of God. Both of these seemingly opposing attitudes are part of the same dead thing; namely, “the flesh.”

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. (Rom. 8:6)

Reading this translation one might think that Paul is advocating an Aristotelian tripartite division of the self into body, soul, and spirit: the soul (or mind) can focus on bodily lusts, which lead to death, or it can turn its attention to spiritual things, leading to life. But here is a more literal translation of that same verse:

For the flesh’s way of thinking is death; but the spirit’s way of thinking is life and peace.

The flesh and the spirit are alternative ways of thinking, of orienting oneself to reality. The orientation called “the flesh” is concerned with the old-creation distinctions between Jew and Greek, and it is simultaneously obsessed with achieving justification through obeying the law and with succumbing to the desire to break the law. This fleshly orientation is death, so Paul tells his readers to die to this death-dealing thought pattern: death to the distinctions between Jew and Greek, death to law, death to sin. Instead, Paul encourages his readers to adopt the alternative orientation toward the world called “the spirit.” The spirit is concerned with other matters: knowledge and wisdom, peace and compassion, kindness and forebearance, God, love, life. It’s not through setting aside the sinful life that the believer is gradually transformed into a good person. When considered from the perspective of the spirit the believer is already good.

But setting aside the unholy life doesn’t provide the means of living a holy life. If that were true, then following the law would lead to holiness. Paul insists this isn’t the case: consider yourself dead to the law and any expectations you might still entertain that through ceasing your immorality and behaving well you will become holy. Dying to unholiness isn’t the same thing as living in holiness. The one is part of the continual dying to the old man; the other results from the continual renewal of the new man. To live in the new creation is to participate in Christ’s resurrection life. Death to the old life, the flesh, the old man, the Jew-Gentile distinction, the law and sin — this death is inevitable and not to be resisted. The new creation is something else altogether: a subjective participation in the subjectively-experienced event of Christ’s resurrection. Ultimately it’s living in the new that’s Paul’s main concern throughout his letters.

What is the relationship between the new man and holiness? If we equate holiness with sinlessness, then holiness is reduced to a negative quality, an absence of sinfulness. It would seem that Paul envisioned something more, something positive about the resurrection life. Positive holiness is what Paul regards as the centerpiece of his message to the Colossians:

the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you (or among you), the hope of glory. (Col. 1:26-27)

Christ’s crucifixion brings Jews and Gentiles together collectively as the “new creation.” As Grenz and Franke say in Beyond Foundationalism,”Through the appropriated biblical text, the Spirit forms in us a communal interpretive framework that creates a new world” (p. 81). But participation in the new collective is also an individual affair, as evidenced in Ephesians 4 and in Colossians 3. The new creation is energized by resurrection life, as is each “new man” who participates in it.

A dual operation is underway here: a setting aside of the old man, as well as a taking on of the new man. The old man participates in the old dead world, in which all Gentiles were by Law excluded from even the possibility of holiness. That’s what the Law was for: to set a holy nation apart from all other unholy nations, and to divide holy from unholy within the holy nation and among its people. In the old creation the Gentiles are unholy by definition, regardless of what they do, whether they act in accord with the Law or in opposition to it.

But now Paul moves toward something universal underlying the Law, an outscoping and abstraction that seems more Greek than Jewish. Acts of sanctification are prescribed in the Jewish Law — washings, offerings, rituals, designations of particular places for performing particular actions, circumcision — that serve only to maintain a structural barrier between the holy and the unholy. But there is also an intrinsically holy sort of human life for which being Jewish or Gentile makes no difference, a holiness which can, to an extent, be encoded in law-like prohibitions: don’t be angry or wrathful toward one another, don’t slander or verbally abuse or lie to one another (Col. 3:8-9). These aren’t positive statements of holiness (do this good thing); they’re more like the negation of unholiness (don’t do this bad thing). Still, obeying the prohibitions won’t turn the unholy man holy — negating the negative doesn’t become a positive.

Paul employs a variety of metaphors to describe to the Colossians the relationship between the resurrected Christ and the believer: Christ in/among you (1:27), you in Christ (2:6-11), you with Christ (2:12-13, 3:1-4). So when Paul exhorts his readers to “put on the new man” (3:10), it’s in this all-pervasive context of death and resurrection where “Christ is all, and in all” (3:11). To put off the old man is to set aside the deadly obstacles to holiness: anger, wrath malice, etc. (3:8-9). To put on the new man is to live positively in the holiness of Christ that characterizes the new creation. These aspects of positive holiness include compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, peace, and above all love (3:12-15). Ceasing to act from anger, wrath, and malice is one thing; acting with compassion, kindness, and love is something else altogether. The former is how the old man dies; the latter is how the new man lives.

To reiterate, then: Setting aside the old man means not doing unholy things; taking on the new man means doing holy things. To stop doing unholy things doesn’t make you holy; it only makes you dead to the old man. To do holy things means living inside the resurrection life of Christ, and letting that life live inside and among you. How this resurrection life “works” — whether it should be interpreted as a mystical force for goodness or a thoroughgoing change of heart and mind — goes beyond the scope of my observations here.

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28 Comments »

  1. In essence we’re back with Jesus’ positive application of the “law – love…” and rejection of the negative, ascetic, etc. path to the kingdom of god. I had earlier expressed the thought that this was where Paul had headed even though the terminology that he uses to describe this newness was not to be directly found in what we have of Jesus own words.

    The question that you had earlier asked was on Jesus’ selfconsciousness, but I wonder if that is required? Is there a need to have a Hegelian understanding? The hermeneutical question is, for Paul, is there a break between the Jesus ‘of history’ and the risen Lord, and I do think that this is a question that the thologians and scholars have glossed over.

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    Comment by Sam L. Carr — 30 December 2008 @ 9:30 am

  2. “In essence we’re back with Jesus’ positive application of the “law – love…” and rejection of the negative, ascetic, etc. path to the kingdom of god.”

    I think that’s selective reading of the Gospels, where Jesus proposes cutting off an arm or gouging out an eye if you can’t keep it under control. Of course Paul isn’t perfectly consistent either. Maybe they could both glimpse going beyond law but couldn’t quite get there. Maybe that’s why Paul consistently emphasizes the resurrected Jesus: having now passed through the grave he’s now fully dead to the old creation of Israel and its Law. The continuity is a purification or intensification of a message that only intermittently peeked through Jesus’s earthly legalism and Jewishness.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 December 2008 @ 10:18 am

  3. That may well be the case though where you see legalism in the gospels I see irony and ridicule (but I certainly am not objective). According to Jesus, the gospel could be preached negatively (JTB), or positively, as he was himself advocating, and in both instances the preaching was met with rejection.

    Paul’s triumph is that with the death and resurrection as the cornerstone, that same message of love was now actually potentially getting across – except for those pesky law preachers who were trying so desperately to drag everyone back to something far worse.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 30 December 2008 @ 11:28 am

  4. Ktismatics: “To reiterate, then: Setting aside the old man means not doing unholy things; taking on the new man means doing holy things. To stop doing unholy things doesn’t make you holy; it only makes you dead to the old man. To do holy things means living inside the resurrection life of Christ, and letting that life live inside and among you. How this resurrection life “works” — whether it should be interpreted as a mystical force for goodness or a thoroughgoing change of heart and mind — goes beyond the scope of my observations here.”

    Kvond: It strikes me that something of the above just does not capture the movement. It is not simply a matter of “doing” or even “living inside”. Key is the word that Paul uses, “enduo”, “to put on” as in, to step into clothing, to enter into. We have read that the clothes make the man. Here one steps into a cloth, perhaps woven from Christ’s blood and new flesh. Think of “putting on” a soldier’s uniform, or more profanely, a N.Y. Yankee uniform. It is not a matter of changing actions willfully, but in recognizing one’s new position within a new state of being. With the uniform, so to speak, is a new man, a new capacity to be. This is something that I think that Paul means.

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    Comment by kvond — 31 December 2008 @ 5:22 pm

  5. The idea of “putting on” has more to do with assuming a particular role or public stance or self-presentation than with internal transformation. Up until this installment I’d resisted the idea of putting on a new morality, which smacks of legalism. But this fits with your suggestion, Kvond: if you put on a soldier’s uniform, you also adopt a certain set of behaviors appropriate to the soldier’s role. Putting on the uniform doesn’t imbue you with an “inner soldier” who spontaneously behaves in conformity with this transformed essence. You adopt the behavior pattern appropriate to the role, but you could just as easily set those behaviors aside when you return to civilian life. This does seem willful, and it must be partly that, otherwise Paul wouldn’t be so cavalier about the ease of putting on and off the uniform. But in a military reality the soldierly behaviors are more easily adopted because those behaviors make more sense. That’s why putting on the new man is the appropriate thing to do when one occupies the new creation. Does that work?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 31 December 2008 @ 6:22 pm

  6. Ktimsmatics: ” if you put on a soldier’s uniform, you also adopt a certain set of behaviors appropriate to the soldier’s role. Putting on the uniform doesn’t imbue you with an “inner soldier” who spontaneously behaves in conformity with this transformed essence.”

    Kvond; Hmmm. It seems you want to put emphasis upon external behaviors, but I think that in putting on a uniform there is a dialectic, an aspect of performance according to the expected behaviors of the uniform, but also an internal experience of seeing oneself AS the uniform. One does get an experience of an “inner soldier”, or “inner policeman” or “inner Yankee” when one puts on the uniform (why do people wear military camoflage or the jersey of a favorite player or team?). Putting on the new man is for Paul something like putting on the armor of Ceasar. In fact Ephesians holds the primary metaphor of putting on the armor of Christ, if I recall correctly.

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    Comment by kvond — 31 December 2008 @ 6:32 pm

  7. Why is it I who wants to emphasize the externals, and not Paul? I’m just reading the text. “Seeing oneself AS the uniform” is fine, but here Paul indicates that it’s relatively easy to see oneself AS wearing a completely different uniform. The usual Christian discourse is that the inner transformation dominates, that one is filled with the Spirit and through its/his inner workings regenerates the inner man. Here the man has an outer-ness, like a uniform one puts on. Certainly the Jewish Law is characterized by outer conformity to a particular code of behavior. But there’s also a uniform involved in Jewishness too — a uniform engraved in the flesh, which is circumcision. This distinction, says Paul repeatedly in these new creation texts, is useless. So I’m generally with you: the uniform worn in the battle is codeterminative in a way that wearing the uniform to a fancy ball is not. The attire is appropriate to the setting: self and reality are codeterminative.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 31 December 2008 @ 7:25 pm

  8. Ktismatics: “Why is it I who wants to emphasize the externals, and not Paul? I’m just reading the text. “Seeing oneself AS the uniform” is fine, but here Paul indicates that it’s relatively easy to see oneself AS wearing a completely different uniform.”

    Kvond: We are BOTH reading the text,and of course you are free to read it anyway you like. I’m just offering a different opinion. I read not “See yourself as the uniform”, I read “Put on the new man”. This is a command. Not “try on this uniform, and then try on that one, see yourself this way, or that way”. To me the command, “Put on the uniform” if we allow that that is the metaphor, is not just a command to act in a certain way. “Put on the uniform” is a command that implies an inner transformation, as well as an outer behavorioral expectation. For me, the two go hand in hand.

    As to uniforms at a fancy ball and in combat, for me the transformation is in each both internal and external. If a police officer wears his uniform to a banquet where politicians are, the wearing of the uniform is transformative, at least in my sense.

    Perhaps helpful here is Althusser’s concept of intepellations, the way in which we as citizens on the street would instinctively turn our head when walking down the street, and a police officer yelled “Hey you!” We immediately recognize the call as being for us. We see ourselves in the call, even if it turns out to be directed to someone else. In much the same way, if you are wearing the uniform of a policeman and walking down the street, on or off duty, and you have necessarily been transformed by the uniform, you will be interpellated by the call, “Hey officer!” In a sense, I feel that Paul is saying something along the lines of, “Put on the uniform of the New Man” (and thus be interpellated by the call, “Hey, New Man!”, recognizing yourself in it.

    Anyways, that’s my reading of the phrase. Do feel free to differ with it.

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    Comment by kvond — 31 December 2008 @ 7:43 pm

  9. And perhaps this adds something as well to the change from the Old Man to the New Man, from a book I am reading:

    “What is, after all, the difference between promise and fulfillment if not that the former remains stationary, finished, immovable while the latter happens, or, better, materializes. Thus nothing has changed on the way from promise to fulfillment. The content of the promise and the phases of the fulfillment are one and the same, only what was finished thus transformed itself into a beginning. (112)

    from The Star of Redemption, by Franz Rosenzweig

    You put off the “old man” because it is stationary, the promise of salvation is fixed, unchanged, but you have been changed. It is the very nature of the beginning to be a putting on, an entering into, I suspect.

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    Comment by kvond — 31 December 2008 @ 9:10 pm

  10. I didn’t mean to be so snippy regarding your first comment, Kvond. I suspect we can triangulate together on what the texts say.

    “Put on the uniform” is a command that implies an inner transformation, as well as an outer behavorioral expectation.”

    I agree, but with certain very specific caveats that Paul lays down in his writings. If you put on the new man you gradually become regenerated. However, if you put on the old man you gradually die. In Paul the old isn’t transformed into the new; rather, the new is exchanged for the old. And it’s the exchange is in some ways reversible: in the Ephesians 4 passage it’s evident that Paul deems it possible for the believer to put on the old man again, even after he’s already put on the new man. This isn’t about losing one’s salvation; it’s about the divided self. It’s possible to outfit oneself for living in one reality, then suddenly to change into a costume designed for the other reality.

    Elsewhere Paul says that through Christ the believer is dead to the law and alive to the spirit. I find it hard to reconcile that idea with his injunctions here to put aside certain immoral behaviors, as if he’s again preaching conformity to the Law. That’s why I was suggesting that setting aside immoral behaviors isn’t the same as attaining holiness or walking in the spirit. The emphasis isn’t on transformation but on death/resurrection: it’s a discontinuous and radical break with the past. The old man doesn’t gradually turn into the new man; rather, the old man dies and is exchanged for the new man. This I think is where Badiou resonates with Paul: the resurrection event opens a rupture, a void within which something unprecedented can arise. The civilian clothing doesn’t turn into a baseball uniform: you take the one off and put the other one on. Not immanence and gradual change, but an either/or exchange — this is how Paul consistently describes old/new man and old/new creation in these 5 specific texts.

    That said, Paul states that within the two separate poles of the either/or dichotomy there are transformations taking place. The old man is both already dead and continually dying; the new man is both already resurrected and continually regenerating itself. The old man and the new man are moving away from each other in opposite directions. It’s in this sense that I agree with the transformational ideas you highlight. Wearing the uniform goes along with the transformation, as if you gradually grow into the role. But there are two uniforms, an old one and a new one; and two transformations, a dying and a regenerating. The same person can slip from one uniform to the other, from one transformation to the other. These are subjective manifestations of what Paul insists is also an objective change that has already happened in history: when Christ died, the old creation and the old man died with him. These commands have to do with subjectively recognizing the objective disjunctive event that’s already occurred and living one’s life accordingly.

    Regarding promise/fulfillment, for Paul in Galatians the promise to Abraham persists without fulfillment throughout the subsequent generations. Even Israel doesn’t fulfill this promise. It’s Christ’s death and resurrection that brings about the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise. The Christ event is a singularity, a rupture that brings an end to the old and ushers in the new. From that moment forward the fulfillment progressively arrives, but the shift from promise to fulfillment begins in the specific event.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 1 January 2009 @ 2:10 am

  11. Going a bit against the grain, I keep coming back to Jesus’ idea of identifying oneself as a child of the Father and relatedly to the other idea that Jesus kept teaching, of being a part of a new kingdom. Somehow, without anchors to the teachings of Jesus, Paul’s ideas seem to hang in a vacuum.

    John has taken this teaching in one direction (being born again) and Paul in another, being “in” Christ and both concepts do not really connect with stuff as I understand it today. And Jesus also discusses the inside-outside correspondence…

    Fascinating discussion! How do the both of you see this process beginning for someone today?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 2 January 2009 @ 12:26 am

  12. There’s no question that, by focusing so narrowly on this one idea of “new creation” in Paul, I lose nuances from the rest of Paul’s thought and of other NT texts. This is because I’ve tried to stick very close to the specific texts addressing the Biblical theme of creation in particular. In a sense I’m following the idea of creation as it transforms itself in various writers’ heads. One could say that Creation is the main character in my explorations, rather than any particular writer or god or coherent theological tradition. Other such characters can be identified: kingdom, birth, being-in, etc. It’s as if these persistent themes, by thinking themselves in different heads, create a longitudinal story of their own. I’d not thought of it quite like this before, but maybe that’s what I have in mind: specific trajectories of thought morphing as they pass through different heads over time. Sort of gnostic, that, which maybe traces an immanentist trajectory from Kvond’s hero Spinoza.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 3 January 2009 @ 4:30 am

  13. In Genesis the “creation” is not a gradually unfolding and growing reality. It bursts on the scene and at the end of six days it is finished:

    Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. And by the seventh day God completed the work which he had done… Genesis 2:1-2

    From that point on the creation itself either remains static or deteriorates. The source of that deterioration is human ambition, autonomy, immorality.

    Likewise for Paul the new creation is completed in Christ’s death and resurrection. “It is finished” were Christ’s last words on the cross. From that point on the new creation… does what? For one thing it becomes manifest, moving toward its fullness of expression in the world. This is kind of Greek dualism, energized by the utopian visions of the OT prophets. Something is complete in its ideal heavenly state that’s only gradually shining forth in the material world. Does the new creation have any forward momentum beyond the making-manifest of what already happened in Christ’s death and resurrection? This isn’t something that Paul has much to say about. Paul sees a summing up of all things in Christ at the end of the age, but the reader gets the sense that this is only the final fulfillment of this making-manifest process, and that it’s already been completed in the heavenly spheres.

    Does the New Testament leave room for progress or emergence or an unscripted fifth act in the ongoing cosmic drama? It doesn’t rule it out, but it doesn’t really offer any clues about whether such a thing ought to be considered. Paul writes as if the end is near. In the new creation the law is dead and the spirit guides and empowers. In a broader sense “the law” can be construed as any sort of rules or maps or 12-step programs for the future. Presumably the spirit is operating without a manual.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 3 January 2009 @ 9:53 am

  14. Ktismatics: The usual Christian discourse is that the inner transformation dominates, that one is filled with the Spirit and through its/his inner workings regenerates the inner man.

    This is something I have been thinking through quite a bit recently. I think that many Christians become so obsessed with their “inner” being (e.g., “Am I holy enough?”) that they miss the point.

    For Paul, the Gospel seems to be primarily external: Grace is the gift of God that you receive (Romans 4) and the result of this reconciliation/redemption is to join with God in the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5).

    Paul’s vision is not for extreme, personal introversion. Sure, transformation happens, but even transformation seems to be the result of turning our focus away from ourselves and onto something else (“reckon yourself dead to sin,” etc.).

    Much of recent conservative Christianity seems to have been dominated by what I think of as “spiritual narcissism”: being obsessed with one’s soul. That’s not Paul’s Gospel.

    Is it an “inner transformation” or a new reality that one must make real?

    Not to say there is not language of mystical, inner transformations, however: “Live/walk by/with the Spirit,” and “We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

    So, to weigh in on the “uniform” discussion, I tend to agree with Ktismatics that there is no major emphasis in Paul on the “inner.” It is a matter of recognizing the newness of the situation: Receive God’s gift of grace and be a part of the reconciliation. This is the heart of the “new man.” For Paul, it is enough if one simply keeps one’s focus on the new man and the new creation. Faith, then, is a new vision, but the vision is only good if the believer keeps it before her and allows it to determine her perspective and actions.

    K: This isn’t about losing one’s salvation; it’s about the divided self. It’s possible to outfit oneself for living in one reality, then suddenly to change into a costume designed for the other reality.

    Right. But it isn’t just a matter of working hard, it’s a matter of getting the right perspective on who one is. The new reality is truly new, but the believer must make-it-new by the way they live or “walk”: “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart….in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind…..” (Ephesians 4)

    Ktismatics: That’s why I was suggesting that setting aside immoral behaviors isn’t the same as attaining holiness or walking in the spirit.

    Again I agree. So, even in Ephesians 4 the “walk” isn’t just a change in behavior (although that’s certainly important b/c Paul recognizes that we are not just Cartesian “minds” inhabiting bodies, Paul is not a gnostic); but it is a matter of perspective, so it is a matter of the perspective of the mind: renew the spirit of your mind, don’t live in “ignorance” of a live apart from the “life of God.” It’s almost a Yoda thing: “the force flows through all things,” therefore, get in touch with it and use its power. Don’t be ignorant of what is available as a new man in the new creation.

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    Comment by Erdman — 25 March 2009 @ 1:23 pm

  15. It seems we’re of one mind here, Erdman.

    For what it’s worth, my particular reason for resisting the idea of a mystical inner transformation is that it implies that believers are qualitatively different kinds of people than unbelievers. I.e., “regenerate” is contrasted with “degenerate,” tainted by original sin, incapable of doing good, etc. The implication is that believer=superhuman while unbeliever=subhuman: a formula for fascistic oppression that’s been invoked often over the centuries. I don’t have any problem with regeneration as a concept, attained through reorientation and new habits and so on. It’s the magic differential acquired through belief in a particular set of propositions that bugs me.

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    Comment by john doyle — 25 March 2009 @ 9:03 pm

  16. I understand that concern. I share the same suspicion that you just expressed.

    I don’t know that I yet have a systematic way of addressing it, though, outside of just some sort of having some sort of wider view of the Gospel: that all regeneration is the work of God/Spirit, even if it occurs without acknowledgment of traditional Christian propositions….that’s about all I have, though, at this point.

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    Comment by Erdman — 26 March 2009 @ 5:23 am

  17. K: I don’t have any problem with regeneration as a concept, attained through reorientation and new habits and so on. It’s the magic differential acquired through belief in a particular set of propositions that bugs me.

    What if we just dropped the last sentence?

    What if we said that there is no “magical differentiation” based on belief in a particular set of propositions?

    But then let’s maintain the aspect of Paul’s theology that you believe is correct (and seems like a pretty damned good idea): that the believer is actually and genuinely regenerated via “reorientation.”

    As far as I can see, the believer still has a “qualitative difference” (or QD) from the unbeliever, but it is not based on propositional belief but upon an actual state of being-in-the-process-of-regeneration. Regeneration is a process in Paul’s theology, no??? That seems to be the point of Ephesians 4. The idea that “being saved” is a one-and-done deal is not Paul’s….not quite. There is a QD, but it is a QD that is working itself out. So, to say that one is “saved” (in the sense of having completed something) is fallacious. It’s not Pauline to have a salvation that is complete–it is a new vision for movement and process.

    Okay. Next let’s say that the QD results in the believer losing her sense of being qualitatively different. The believer’s QD means that she is an ambassador of reconciliation (per 2 Corinthians 5). An ambassador of reconciliation attempts to bring people together and eliminate differences, such as the believer/non-believer distinction. This is clearly a non-violent, peaceful process of love (1 Corinthians 13).

    (Paul (like Jesus) even seems to even prefer the company of the “degenerate” over the Christian whose life does not demonstrate the QD. Is there a possible hint here that the “degenerate” might have a QD, themselves???)

    The result? The QD (i.e., the state of being-in-the-process-of-regeneration) could not result in a formula for fascist oppression, because the believer understands (a)She is in a process that is never complete, not by believing propositions or being a member of a club or fraternity (i.e., “church”) and (b)She is an ambassador of reconciliation who seeks to eliminate the believer/unbeliever distinction through peaceful cooperation.

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    Comment by Erdman — 26 March 2009 @ 2:01 pm

  18. “As far as I can see, the believer still has a “qualitative difference” (or QD) from the unbeliever, but it is not based on propositional belief but upon an actual state of being-in-the-process-of-regeneration.”

    Here’s how I’m leaning now in my reading of Paul: Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished something objective, viz. the breakdown of the old distinctions (Jew/Gentile, slave/free, etc.), death to the Law, the new creation, and life in the Spirit. It seems that this objective transformation might apply to all without exception — everyone is elect, Jews and Gentiles alike (Rom. 11:25-32). The question is about the role of belief/faith: is it required of each individual in order to gain entrance to this objective new creation, or in order to participate in the subjective benefits it affords to everyone? I’m thinking it’s the latter. So that would mean that everyone participated in the universal objective QD wrought by Christ’s death/resurrection, but only those who believe and have faith benefit subjectively from this QD.

    In some ways this reading begs the question of the distinction between objective and subjective participation in the new creation. Let’s say that everyone REALLY IS dead to the law and alive to the spirit whether they “reckon themselves dead” or not. I think there is a difference between objective/subjective here. If we were still objectively alive to the law, then the law would serve as the basis for our condemnation whether we realized it or not. Conversely, we can feel condemned subjectively by our violation of law even if that condemnation isn’t objectively true. This is a Lacanian insight: there is no Big Other behind the Law; the psychological problem comes from failing to realize this truth subjectively.

    If this is more or less a valid reading, then everyone is already magically transformed in Christ’s death/resurrection event. Regeneration is coming to realize this magical transformation subjectively, or psychologically if you like. People are already not qualitatively divided from each other based on the gross distinctions of the old creation; i.e., there is no Big Other standing behind structural hierarchies of Jew/Gentile, free/slave, male/female, etc. It’s a matter of coming to realize this objective structural breakdown as true for oneself.

    What I think gets overlooked in the subjective/objective dichotomy is that the new creation is mostly described in intersubjective terms. It’s not that we’re all the same as individuals, but that the structural distinctions dividing people into hierarchical classes aren’t intrinsic, natural, or divinely decreed. It would seem, then, that coming to a subjective awareness of this objective truth would manifest itself also in some sort of intersubjective change. I don’t think it’s enough to say that slave/free is meaningless to God so we won’t pay attention to this distinction. Rather, I’d think that subjective participation in the new creation would also include taking collective, intersubjective action toward breaking down the structural barriers by which the privileged classes assert their superiority over others.

    I’m not sure I stayed on your topic completely, Erdman, but I think we’re triangulating on something here.

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    Comment by john doyle — 29 March 2009 @ 8:58 am

  19. Then perhaps you and I agree that when it comes to regeneration, it is possible that believer and non-believer can participate “subjectively.” What separates the believer from the non-believer is the belief that something “objective” happened in the Christ event that provided the power and/or the vision for the subjective regeneration.

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    Comment by Erdman — 30 March 2009 @ 9:52 am

  20. It seems that in our various discussions, you and I have participated in finding common ground on various “subjective” aspects of the Gospel and regeneration: the need to live beyond law, the need to think of an intersubjective vision that breaks down dividing walls and barriers, the role of freedom for the individual and the community, etc.

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    Comment by Erdman — 30 March 2009 @ 9:55 am

  21. Maybe we’re arriving at the portal to the new creation, Erdman. If God is, and if Christ is resurrected, then something happened to the human race. In that momentous event, barriers between groups of people that seemed intrinsic to the natural order or mandated by eternal divine decree were abolished, in heaven if not yet on earth. Some people realize what happened way back then and are living in accord with that realization. Others don’t recognize that this Christ-event occurred, but they do recognize that the structural barriers erected between good/bad behaviors and chosen/rejected groups of people are arbitrary and false. Then there are the others, believers and unbelievers both being counted among their number, who don’t get it, who live inside the old structures, either supporting them or rebelling against them.

    Probably everyone even in the first two categories is only partway along the path of acting in accord with their death to the law and the various other structural distinctions of the old creation. I.e., they’ve not completely taken off the old man and put on the new man. And there’s repeated slippage back into the old ways of thinking and acting. There’s no winning inside the old man’s perspective: it’s always heading toward death. Only in the new-man perspective, recognizing one’s death to the old structural distinction, is renewal possible. And renewal comprises mostly an alignment of the subjective with the objective, of ideas and attitudes and behaviors and emotions with the freedom of the new creation.

    Or something. I’m starting to sound like a preacher now.

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    Comment by john doyle — 30 March 2009 @ 3:18 pm

  22. I’m not much of one for preaching these days, but I’m down with your sermon, Doyle.

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    Comment by Erdman — 31 March 2009 @ 7:39 am

  23. So now here’s the next part of the sermon, Edrman. You’ll recall the premise of my Genesis 1 reading, namely that it’s a “first contact” story, like a Star Trek episode where Kirk tells the locals what’s what in the cosmos (see this old post). “…and God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.” Through repeated application of this separating-and-naming protocol, elohim embeds the entire material universe inside a conceptual structure. Yahweh later uses a very similar procedure in establishing the Law of Moses: this is clean, that is unclean, etc. And of course there’s the separation and naming of peoples: these are the Jews, who are chosen; these are the Gentiles, who are not chosen.

    Let’s say that our reading of Paul’s “new creation” is accurate, namely that the old hierarchical structural distinctions no longer matter. Paul is saying that this structure and its hierarchical categories aren’t intrinsic to nature. Therefore can we propose that this whole scheme of separating and naming categories is the “old creation”? It’s not that the old depraved nature is being replaced by some new nature, nor even that the old universe is going to be replaced by a new heavens and a new earth. Rather, the old structural dividing walls have been torn down (Eph. 2:14). So it might have been convenient and replaced by… what? By freedom, love, the spirit, etc.

    And maybe when it comes to cosmology the old structures are also replaced by systematic observation and theorizing when it comes to understanding cosmology. The whole sun circling the earth, “firmament separating the waters above from the waters below” thing might have been a useful framework at the time, but it’s not intrinsic to nature. Let it go.

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    Comment by john doyle — 31 March 2009 @ 9:58 am

  24. Yes. I like that line of thinking.

    It also makes more sense of “the law,” to think of it as a synthetic structure that served it’s purpose for a period of time. The problem is that when we take the law as an end in itself, elevate it to a universal commentary on the “intrinsic nature” of reality (and consequently human nature). So, from the Lacanian perspective (if I understand it correctly), there is no Big Other behind the law, it’s ultimately our ideas about order and justice…..the same would be true, then, of biblical sexual norms: they served a purpose, but now they should be employed in a manner that does not divide (homo v. heterosexual, etc.).

    What these structures are replaced with, I suggest, is a matter for those who care about being reconciled/redeemed/regenerate (whether “believer” in the objective reality of the crucifixion/resurrection/etc. or not) to hash out among themselves in a continuing dialog. In other words, we don’t want to replace one fixed/universal structure with another one that we simply find more appealing to our tastes. That’s where the freedom comes in, I think, and the love/respect for the freedom of the other.

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    Comment by Erdman — 31 March 2009 @ 11:10 am

  25. The communal nature of truth reminds me (of course) of Gadamer’s emphasis on a “dialogical” approach.

    It also seems to follow from the nature of grace and reconciliation that is so central to Paul: we are no longer divided, so what’s the point in not collaborating on how the life of regeneration look? After all, that seems to have been the m.o. in the early church before institutional structuring became normative.

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    Comment by Erdman — 31 March 2009 @ 11:18 am

  26. Whose purpose did the old structure serve would you say, Erdman? If in order to preserve the integrity of Scripture you say it served God, then he remains under suspicion as the instigator of all those fascistic, genocidal, and vengeful acts he’s credited with in the Old Testament, along with the misogyny and homophobia and xenophobia characteristic of the patriarchal societies established in his name. On the other hand, you could say that the old structure served the pragmatic interests of the people who stood at the top of that structure. They would invoke God’s authority to justify holding onto their privileged position, claiming it was God’s will that it be so. That sort of justification makes more sense to me. It also lets God off the hook, making him the victim of those who systematically took his name in vain to further their own purposes.

    It’s also possible that people really did believe that God had imposed his structure on the world. After all, it had been in place for so long it seemed permanent, and people who grew up in that culture spontaneously and intuitively thought in ways that align with the structural categories: we’re the chosen people, men dominate women, etc. I’d say they made false inferences, failing to recognize the importance of culture and nurture in establishing hegemonic and totalizing systems that feel natural and permanent and decreed by God.

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    Comment by john doyle — 1 April 2009 @ 8:35 am

  27. Yes, I would have no problem with saying that even though I believe that God instituted various structures for the nation of Israel, the structure as a totality was a mixture of both God- and man-made decrees/laws/power plays.

    So, I suppose I can’t say for certain whether I let God off the hook or if I let Scripture off the hook, honestly.

    We could go the route of Marcion and view the God of the OT as a false/evil God.

    From a New Testament perspective, Paul said that the law leads us to Christ. Basically I see this move as a reinterpretation of the purpose of the law. For the OT Jew, the law wasn’t a means to an end (Christ), it was an end in itself. So, the point is that it seems legitimate to reinterpret certain structures to mean something new in light of the new creation. And, per Gadamer, we do this all the time anyway.

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    Comment by Erdman — 1 April 2009 @ 3:00 pm

  28. I do agree with both of you. My basic problem with Paul is that I don’t think he was willing to go ‘far enough’ down the revolutionary, nonhierarchical, route. That strand in his thinking is ameliorated by various diatribes where the ‘more traditional Paul’ is visibly struggling with the ‘new Paul’.

    My own undetrstanding of this is that Paul is trying to follow his Messiah down a very difficult path, one that especially leaves no space for this new spiritual ‘body of believers’ to turn themselves into one more human organization. One problem for Paul is that it’s very diffcult to stop, or even to divert, a nascent organization. Another vry practical problem is that leaders ‘feel’ that they have to lead, and from what I can see of Paul’s own struggles with this, some sort of an uneasy truce is what results.

    n the context of he Law, cerainly Paul does try to follow Jesus own criticism and reinterpretation of the Mosaic Law. I think that this certainly does mean that the traditional understanding of God has to change. God was not the author of any of the injustice, eugenics, and nepotism that are inextricably linked to the old Law and to the exclusive interpretation of the old covenant. In major ways, the new covenant that Jesus institutes is an outright an radical rejection of most of what the old one affirms. How far Paul and the others were really willing or able to go down this completely new path, is the point.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 5 April 2009 @ 1:22 pm


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