God-in-History: Bearing the Future in History


In my last post, we explored the idea of Revelation as History and the Historian as Prophet; thoughts which were provoked by a initial perusal of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s book: Revelation as History.  Today, our focus turns toward the surprising appearance of the future in the past and present – the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus.  Interestingly, speaking about the incarnation and subsequent death and resurrection of Jesus in Pannenberg’s thought, Richard Lischer observes:  "For Pannenberg, resurrection does not represent a miraculous interruption of nature and history. Only those for whom history is blandly homogenized will say that because resurrections do not happen now, the resurrection of Jesus was a miracle or an intersubjective experience, or else a hoax. Pannenberg rejects all three alternatives. He prefers to call Jesus' resurrection a unique historical event which, investigated by the usual historical methods, must be accepted like any other event of history: reason sees the fact. Faith, in Pannenberg's use, awaits the future. Resurrection makes history in the sense that it establishes a goal and an overall meaning for everything that happens. And it answers man's universal longing for life after death.  Insofar as it is a theology of history, Pannenberg's theology is burdened with the old Hegelian liabilities. Jürgen Moltmann in his Theology of Hope (Harper & Row, 1967) makes a fine distinction between awaiting the resurrected Christ and awaiting a resurrection like his. In opting for the latter Pannenberg reveals his own tendency to subsume the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus under a more comprehensive reality; namely, revelation.”

This is what appeals to me in Pannenberg, although perhaps this is mere semantics, but this is where I might say this ‘more comprehensive reality’ is not ‘revelation’ but rather ‘the reign/kingdom of God’.  Yet from our current situation of living within this ‘now-and-not-yet’ age, our perspective takes on new horizons with Christ Jesus. As Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch put it: “This “enfleshing” of God is so radical and total that it qualifies all subsequent acts of God in his world.” Or as Jacques Ellul once said: “…the actual events of our world only acquire their value in the light of the coming Kingdom of God.”

It is the future-tinted orientation that colours both our understanding of the significance of the past, but also propels us forward with a missional-incarnational impulse.  And in this impulse, one of our underlying assumptions is that God is all ready at work everywhere in the world, and when we are missional, we aren’t taking God with us into some area or culture, we go in looking for what the father is doing and join in what He is doing.  This is a fundamental shift for many of us – to explore what might be all ready embedded in a culture or area and tease it out so that perhaps the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus might break forth – seeking and finding is Kingdom-centric activity.  I heard Todd Hunter recently talk about how the biblical semantic field for Kingdom action is hardly ever ‘building’ or ‘furthering’ the Kingdom, but the Kingdom is ‘entered’ and ‘sought and found’ and God’s Reign ‘break’s out’.   Perhaps this brings balance back to the tension of God as transcendent and immanent.  Our missional-incarnational impulse does focus on the indwelling Spirit as revealing the immanent God/the hidden Christ.

I want to finish with the insights of Jacques Ellul, one of my favourite Kingdom-theologians, who brings together the deeper currents in history of both the transcendant and the immanent: “There is the person of Christ, who is the principle of everything.  But if we wish to be faithful to him, we cannot dream of reducing Christianity to a certain number of principles (though this is often done), the consequences of which can be logically deduced…the action of God always appears as a power in movement, like a torrent which crosses and recrosses history…[t]he Bible shows us a God at work in political and civil history, using the works of men and bringing them into his action for his promised Kingdom.”