Death of God Part VI

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Altizer’s Genesis of God is a wonderful exploration of the relationship between genesis, apocalypse, and the Godhead. He invites his beloved authors into dialogue like Hegel, Nietzsche, Spinoza, and Blake. His writing is somewhat maddening because of its melodic repetition and its complete lack of notes suggesting its theological originality. I wanted to pursue some of his thoughts concerning history, apocalypse, and the Kingdom of God.

On page 37 he writes, “Yet the most powerful Christian theologians of the twentieth century, Barth, Bultmann, Tillich, and Rahner, are all profoundly ahistorical theologians”. He goes on to say on page 171, “Even as ancient Christianity progressively came to know an absolute transcendence of God that was realized in the wake of the disappearance of an apocalyptic Kingdom of God, our history has ever more progressively come to know an absolute immanence of God. Each of these primal movements of our history is fully parallel to the other, and just as the apocalyptic ground of Christianity was only ‘discovered’ in the wake of the uniquely modern realization of the death of God, the absolutely transcendent God of Christianity was only discovered in the wake of ancient Christian dissolution and reversal of the Kingdom of God.”

This provocative statement got me thinking. First off, he’s completely correct to note just what little respect for history Barth and company have, especially Tillich’s ahistorical Christology of the ‘New Being’. Likewise, Barth pretended to have emphasized the apocalyptic heart of Christianity, but it ultimately was relegated to the eternality and transcendence of God. How do we stay faithful to Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God? I mean we all know that Jesus and Paul were wrong in their expectations (see Mark 13) and predictions of the end of the world. But the early church knew the resurrection as being the advent of the coming Kingdom. God was dead for the early church insofar as the distant, wholly other God was no longer in Heaven. He was making his way down to earth to judge and restore justice and righteousness to his people. Of course, after the unfulfilled prophecies the expectation disappeared , so God remained in Heaven and now Jesus sits at his right hand. The Kingdom of God was transformed into an otherworldly heaven or some sort of pragmatic political project. Christianity betrayed itself with this move. The loss of eschatological hope and anticipation became changed into a priestly religion where the afterlife became increasingly the focus.

My question is: after the death of God is there anyway to still live in apocalyptic time? A time of urgency where we realize the hope for the dawning Kingdom, repent and believe the good news. This apocalyptic perspective was absolutely indispensable to Jesus’ message as well as John the Baptist’s. How do we reclaim the early roots of Christianity? I believe recognizing the apocalyptic undertones of Jesus’ ministry, as Schweitzer rightly did, illumine our understanding of the gospel. Although Schweitzer believed the ethics Jesus preached ought to be abandoned because they were only supported by his belief in the end of the world, I think that we must hold on to the teachings. Jesus’ rejection of the family, welcoming of the alien, breaking of the Sabbath laws were all likely motivated by his belief in the coming reign of God. How can we maintain that perspective so as to not betray the apocalyptic Christ?

Also, why is that only after God has died are we now aware of the apocalyptic nature of the early church? What could be the connection between the death of God and the immanent Kingdom of God? If the death of God is the end of all transcendence, would we be correct in saying that the death of God is a repetition of the Kingdom of God insofar as transcendence is shattered in both events?

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