Ecumenical Institute


September 24, 1971


"When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (I Cor. 2:1­2, RSV)

1. Gogarten has begun to illuminate such passages for us, it seems to me. And the key phrase with which we began in our first look at Gogarten is the key phrase for the book. It has to do with responsibility to God and for the world as distinguished from responsibility to the world. And that has begun to illuminate for us the transestablishment stance in history.

2. Maybe we need to locate quickly where we are in the whole book. In Chapters 1­4 we dealt with the history of the concern with historicity of Jesus. The major section of the book, chapters 5­18, deals with the existence of Jesus who embodied the myth of responsibility to God and for the world. The last chapter, 19, has to do with the future of modern Christology. Within the major section, there are three major divisions. chapters 5­8 deal with the New Testament kerygma or preaching; chapters 9­13, with Jesus's preaching; and 14­18, with the radicalization of history in the world of solitary man.

3. As we look today at chapter 5 we are beginning the journey of that main, overall section as well as beginning the section on the New Testament kerygma. And the title of this chapter is "The Task of Christology."

4. Now maybe to locate ourselves again for a moment by reviewing the historical background that Gogarten raised for us.

5. First, he alludes to the fact that Christology was trapped in a kind of moralistic dogmatism through the classical period. That is to say that it had become intellectual assent to accepted formulations of Christology. And then the Enlightenment, and particularly historical criticism, called into question that moralistic dogmatism, and those formulations were no longer intellectually acceptable on the other side of the Enlightenment.

6. That raised the whole question of Christology in a new way, and you had what you might call the old quest for the historical Jesus, in which theologians and biblical scholars made naive attempts to transfer to the historical Jesus the self­images they had of what it meant to be an authentic human being. They were using historical critical methods, but what they were doing in the midst of that was very subtly imposing upon Jesus their own imagery of what authentic religious existence was. These were images of piety, which had to do with the development of a religious personality. Essentially they were out to make Christology, or the Christ, acceptable to the times in which they lived by transferring those kind of images. The kind of naive romantic pictures that were in the lives of Jesus emerged.

7. What happened next was a kind of frustration in the midst of failure to locate the historical Jesus. This culminated in the work of Schweitzer, "The Quest for the Historical Jesus," in which he traced all that had happened and then turned around and talked about how Jesus was an eschatological figure who was there as the messiah proclaiming the end of the world in the New Testament, rather than painting the kind of picture of the religious personality that had been talked about in the lives of Jesus. Consequently the whole quest was radically called into question.

8. In addition to that work in comparative religions broke the back of the old quest by showing early Christianity to be a cultic reality. By looking at the cults of the same period of time and comparing the early Christian community to other cultic communities, it raised even more serious questions about that kind of picture of Jesus. It even raised the question whether it was possible to get back to the historical Jesus in the sense of a factual kind of account of a man's life and a picture of his personality. Great skepticism emerged as to whether that was possible at all, because what you had in the New Testament was a cultic picture of the Jesus of the community of faith.

9. Now, in the midst of that kind of frustration and failure, and sense of impossibility, you have the next major happening in Bultmann. Bultmann played a part in drawing attention to that failure by saying that the quest was not only impossible, but that it was an illegitimate quest. It was not a legitimate search, Bultmann said, because the historical Jesus is not important to faith. It was the fact of Jesus which was proclaimed in the kerygma which was critical to faith. What was critical to faith was the fact of Jesus proclaimed in the kerygma being demythologized or interpreted. Bultmann put that in an existential context, or, what he meant by "being critical to faith" is that it had to do with your life and my life. It had to do with your life and my life and the possibility of life that we experience in being confronted by that event.

10. Bultmann's position resulted in a kind of confusion which is reflected both in those who were his students ­­ those who said that they perceived what he said but wanted to clarify and improve upon it ­­ and in those who really opposed him, those who rejected his whole position.

11. That brought us to the current quest or the new quest of the historical Jesus. What this new quest implied was that it was essentially true that you could not get back to the historical Jesus, and yet that was too skeptical. It implied there was a limited possibility that you could know the things that Jesus said particularly, and you could know some basic facts about Jesus' life. You could not do a biography of Jesus in terms of a time sequence, because you were clear that, for example, Mark had overlaid the Exodus story onto the life of Jesus.

12. Then I think they said that there is limited legitimacy to the quest for the historical Jesus in that it provides the context in which faith came to expression in Jesus. That is to say that faith always comes to expression in a particular context, in a particular person's life in a particular world, in a particular time, in the midst of very particular encounters, and the historical quest can enable us to have a feel for those particular encounters in which faith came to expression.

13. In the midst of that kind of discussion, there has still been a great deal of confusion, and this is where Gogarten is addressing himself. The confusion really has to do with the basic question, what is all of this really about? Gogarten points out, referring to Ebeling in particular to illuminate this, that it's a Christological question that's being dealt with.

14. That's how Gogarten began his book, too, by talking about a Christological question, talking about Luther's statement that you come at the question of Christology by coming at the humanity of Jesus. The Council of Chalcedon had given the classical statement of Jesus as fully human and fully divine. But throughout the classical period, the way they came at the humanity was really to begin with the divinity, or to deduce their Christology from their theology, rather than beginning with the humanity to explode what Christology was all about. So Luther becomes significant in the midst of this kind of discussion, even though he precedes it, because he precedes the whole issue of historical thought as we understand it, or historical criticism.

15. In chapter 5 then, Gogarten sets out to talk about what the task of Christology is in our present context. And he begins by defining the task of Christology as "to bring to expression what came to expression in Jesus." That is, he assumes that you do begin with the humanity of Jesus, and that what Christology is about is bringing to expression what came to expression in Jesus.

16. Now, he says that you cannot bring to expression what came to expression in Jesus simply by using the historical method. You can describe that which came to expression in Jesus, you can describe his situation and how he responded to that situation by the use of the historical method to some degree. But the historical method in itself will not result in an expression which will bring faith to expression, in an expression which is decisive for human existence, for your existence and my existence. What is lacking in the historical method by its very nature ­­ it's nothing naughty about the historical method, it's just the nature of the historical method ­­ is a way of having the existential address to our lives embodied.

17. If you study the life of Jesus, or if you study the reality of the historical Jesus with historical methods, you can describe what is going on there, but that is not articulating or expressing faith in a way that elicits faith; or allows faith to emerge and to be replicated or reduplicated. And this, he says, is the task of Christology. Another way of talking about it is that Christology is not just some kind of rational analysis of titles that have been given to Jesus in the past or some rational analysis of creedal statements that have been given in the past. What he says Christology is all about is really evangelism. It is expressing and articulating who Jesus is in such a way that the faith which Jesus had becomes the faith of those who encounter that articulation. That is what Christology is. That's the legitimate task of Christology.

18. Now, the earliest Christian preaching or kerygma in the New Testament is such a Christology; that is, was such a Christology in its own time and in its own setting. The faith of Jesus as expressed in Jesus had brought to expression the faith of the early church, which expressed that faith which brought to expression the faith of the continuing church. And this expression of faith was an expression which sustained their whole existence. Gogarten talks about how it is that people were confronted with an existential decision in relationship to Jesus when they were confronted by the kerygma. And it wasn't just an existential relationship to Jesus, it was an existential decision in relationship to their whole existence before all of reality which confronted them. They were confronted with a decision about their own lives.

19. Gogarten says that the kerygma or the preaching of the early church is an inadequate Christology for us today. It is inadequate first of all because our existence is different than the existence of the early Christians. Now that should be by now a very elementary point for us. You've had CS­I...our existence is a different existence. You do not live in a two­story universe anymore. It is totally impossible for us to live in the same world, to have the same existence that the early Christians did ­­ their whole thought world, their whole activity world, was different. And to deny our universe is to deny our own existence Or to put it another way, to deny our universe is to manifest sin.

20. There are, however, different expressions of Christology, or different expressions of the expression of faith in Jesus, within the New Testament kerygma itself. The principal ones there would be the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which were expressions of faith within the framework of Judaism. The Gospel of John was an articulation or an expression of faith within the Greek culture. And Paul was an expression of faith within the context of Hellenism, particularly within the context of Gnosticism.

21. Now, Gogarten doesn't go into detail, but his point is that there are different kinds of Christology, different expressions of the expression of faith that is Jesus within the New Testament itself, and that task of re­articulating or re­expressing the kerygma in a different situation or in a different existence has always been going on from the very beginning. People sometimes say that when you teach RS­I you are doing something different because you're not using the same old terminology in the same old way. But what they do not understand is that that kind of re­articulation of faith has gone on in every period of history and went on within the New Testament itself.

22. Now in the midst of the fact that our existence is different from the early Christian existence, Gogarten says, we have lost our relationship to the existence of Jesus in the kerygma. When the early Christians heard the preaching of the apostolic community, they were confronted by Jesus. They were confronted with the faith of Jesus, and that elicited faith from them. Now, when we are confronted by the kerygma because of the times in which we live, and because we are somewhat spoofed by historicism, or history as factual, chronological, biographical imagery, then we do not see Jesus in that kerygma. We have lost that relationship to the kerygma, and thus have asked the question of getting back behind the Christ of faith to the historical Jesus

23. Nobody in the first century could possibly have raised that kind of a question, how to get back to the historical Jesus, because when Jesus was proclaimed it was the historical Jesus that was proclaimed. Or, there is a basic presupposition in Gogarten that the kerygma is grounded in the historical Jesus, that the historical Jesus is present and permeating the kerygma. Not a bunch of facts about his life, not a biography, but Jesus as he came forth as an expression of faith is there. And when people heard the early Christian preaching, they were confronted by that faith of Jesus, by the historical Jesus.

24. Now, the loss of that relationship to the kerygma has resulted in the separation, in much of the modern discussion of the Christ of faith and the historical Jesus. Many people would say that Bultmann's stand is to go back to the Christ of faith, which was what those liberals were fighting against in the old quest when they came up with their lives of Jesus, and which many of those in the current quest are still pushing. Now Gogarten, it seems to me, is extremely helpful in enabling us to understand what Bultmann was really saying. He enlarges upon and in some places differs with Bultmann, but essentially what he's done is really get said in a very clear way what Bultmann was saying.

25. The major problem with much of the discussion, Gogarten says, has been a misunderstanding of what Bultmann means by history, or of what concrete historical reality is. There is, of course, such a thing as history understood as looking at a series of facts, happenings, and events and then trying to pull those together into a gestalt or a trend to get ahold of some meaning. But you and I know that there's a great deal of difference in that way of coming at history, and the other way of coming at history that is symbolized in our infinity symbol, where you stand as one who is being thrust, literally kicked in the rear, and pushed into the future. And in the midst of standing before the awesome task of assuming responsibility for the future, you look to the past and go back into that past and recreate that past. Then you come back and thrust your being into the future and project the future and release your being to get out there.

26. That is a totally different way of coming at history. There's a relationship. You're still interested in factual data and so forth, but the historicity has to do with the concrete, historical, real situation that you've got on your hands. And the history you're interested in is not that which is just sort of interesting and stimulates the intellect, but that which is a vital concern to your life. Now, every man always stands in the situation in which the question of the meaning of his life and the meaning of all of history is present in a radical way, I mean as a life and death question.

27. When you stand in the midst of that, and there is that in history which makes the claim to be the meaning of history, of what all of life is really about­­when you look to that historical event in the midst of being thrust into the future, you look at that in quite a different way than would some detached observer. You look at that event as an event which is going to radically alter your whole existence or as that which you will have to decide is utterly unauthentic, but you have to take it with absolute seriousness if you take your own life seriously. If you do not take it seriously, that means you do not take your own existence seriously.

28. Within that context Gogarten says that what he means by coming at the Jesus of history, or that Jesus is the meaning of history, is not something that can be answered through historical research. It can only be dealt with from the stance of faith. Only in one's stance in relationship to God and to the world does Jesus stand in the relationship to God and to the world, that is to say that Jesus is historical. Only in that stance is it even meaningful to talk about the historical Jesus.

29. The historical Jesus that Gogarten is concerned about is that very real human being who had all kinds of events and activities in his life, but that's not really what's significant. What is significant is the expression which he was of faith in God, that expression of radical trust in God, radical obedience to God, and therefore responsibility for the world. It is that kind of a reality in history that is the historical Jesus to the man of faith, not some personality that you can describe, or sit around and talk about whether he really did ride an ass into Jerusalem. It's the one who was obedient unto death, the one who was detached from the world, and therefore free to embrace the world, that is the historical figure with whom we are confronted in the preaching of the early church. And the task of Christology is to get that reality articulated in such a way that it radically alters your existence and my existence the same way it did the existence of those in the early church.

30. That's essentially where Gogarten gets to in chapter 5 and now I want to just take a few minutes here to spin off of that a little bit. And let's just begin for a second with Jesus, the Christ, is Lord. (See top triangle on the next page.) In Jesus you have the demonstration of faith, and in the Christ, the expression of faith, and in the Lord you have the confession of faith.

31. Now, what I want to raise here in relationship to Gogarten's discussion is that which is the earliest Christian confession or comprehensive Christological statement. And it always helps me to get ahold of who somebody's enemies are, who are the characters that he's trying to mow down. Or, what are the critical dangers that he's trying to avoid. We'll call this triangle "Jesus the Christ is Lord,'' the Christ event. In one sense the "Christ" or "expression" corner is really Christology. Or it's the bringing to expression what came to expression in Jesus in such a way that it elicits faith. That's his basic kind of working model. Now let's just fool a little bit with what happens when you get one of these dynamics or relationships cut off in Christology, or in the preaching of the church, or in the teaching of the church.

32. If you're standing at the confession of faith pole and you get cut off from Jesus as the demonstration of faith (or the historical reality of Jesus), then what you have is docetism, that's the classical term for it. That is in effect a superman image of Jesus, or "Jesus has a head start on me'' and therefore has nothing to do with my life. Now, the way that looks around here is something like, "a colleague has a head start on me." Or I think, you know, there's somebody in the Order who is, as far as I'm concerned, a great spirit giant, but he's got certain advantages over me. He ha a better education, he was born with more natural gifts, he had different experiences, etcetera, etcetera. You see how docetism is a way of creating a worship of Jesus which does not demand that I become a Christ. It does not demand that I be the radical faith that Christ was and is therefore an escape from faith in that way.

33. When you are standing at the confession pole and are cut off from the expression of faith, I want to say that's gnosticisrn. And there I'm using gnosticism primarily to point to what we've called the Everyman Christ understanding, or the heavenly escape route from responsibility. When you're cut off from the expression of faith seeking simply to confess the Lord, what that looks like existentially is, a time will come soon when I'll be delivered out of my situation. A time will come soon when things will get better.

34. Then, when Jesus as the demonstration of faith is cut off from the confession of faith, I want to call that liberalism. Put in the parentheses there, "historicism". By that I mean the liberal stance toward Jesus which is not a confession of faith, but which comes at Jesus as Jesus is no more important to my life than any other great man. Now, no decision is really necessary if Jesus is no more important to our life than any other great man. No decision is required of your life. Maybe one of the ways that that happens around here has to do with our romanticism about other cultures, not daring to stand in the truth of the Christ word, but getting romantic. I'm talking particularly about getting romantic about the day that will come when we're going to deal with Buddhism, or when we're going to deal with Hinduism. That day will come. But many times what we mean by that is something naive and romantic and wishy­washy that's really talking about going and discovering the wonderful new truth that we never heard of in Hinduism and Buddhism.

35. Then when Jesus as the demonstration of faith is cut off from the Christ as the expression of faith, I want to say that's pietism, or put in parentheses there "individualism." Here Jesus becomes that which is my personal savior. He is cut off from the witness of the church, which proclaims Jesus the Christ as the eschatological event for all of the universe. Jesus is not the saving reality for my life, and Joe Jones' life, and that other individual life - no, Jesus is the saving reality for the cosmos, period. The church took the preaching of Jesus and pushed so it was revealed to the eyes of faith that what happened in Jesus was that Jesus took upon himself the doom of man's existence in history. He took upon himself the consequences of man's living his life not in responsibility to God, but either in human irresponsibility or in responsibility to the world, but in any case not in responsibility to God. Jesus decided that the doom impending upon man, that was hanging over the whole universe, was his fate that he would embrace. He took that upon himself and experienced the agony even to the point of experiencing being utterly cut off from God, being forsaken by God.

36. Now pietism has a hard time getting ahold of that kind of understanding of the reality of Jesus. Consequently, pietism results in an individual trying to have some kind of spiritual growth in relationship to Jesus. Around here it may even take the form of trying outside the context of the word to become a spirit giant, to be a great spirit human being.

37. When the expression of faith is cut of from the demonstration of faith, that's dogmatism. And that's the denial of my real historical situation. That's not grounding my theological symbols. That's my pat answer rather than the agony or the uncertainty that's there. And when the expression of faith is cut off from the confession, it becomes moralism. When the responsibility that I exercise is not to God but to the world, my behavior is not grounded in the way life is. And so I may go about beating myself over the head, or beating my colleague over the head because he doesn't believe that all is good. It becomes a moralistic kind of understanding rather than the Word which you bend your knee before, and which you give permission to somebody else to bend his knee before.

38. It seems to me that what is going on in Gogarten is the holding together of that confessional statement. Here is the task that has to go on: faith has to be expressed or the word has to be rearticulated, to enable a confrontation with the expression of faith in Jesus, and thus to allow for an existential decision on the part of the man who is confronted.

39. Now, it seems to me that when you were on the demonstration pole cut off from the rest of the dynamic, you had your old quest, and your liberals. Then when you were on the expression pole alone, you had your sterile dogmatism, and probably you'd want to put neo­orthodoxy there. Up on the confession pole you had your evangelical piety. That is to say that fundamentalism manifested itself in the 20th century not so much in the dogmatism pole as in the docetic and gnostic pole.

40. Now when you hold all three poles together, you see that what life is all about is responsibility to God. I put that down on the humanity pole­that's interesting, isn't it? Where you encounter responsibility to God is in the historical expression of a concrete man in a concrete situation which reveals the divinity, or, you get at the divinity of Christ in his humanity. You and I have seen that in scripture conversations where somebody will be reading the scripture, and it's those little dinky details that ground it in the nitty gritty, or even somebody's cuteness when they're reading it that reveals to you just the human situation that evokes the awe. That's what lays bare the awe; it's the utter humanity that lays bare the relationship with God as a final relationship.

41. Then on the expression pole there is responsibility for the world. That is to say, it is in the articulation of the proclamation of the cosmic redemption in Jesus that the responsibility for the world is made possible, that permission is given to live in this world as one who is responsible to God and to bear the agony, the burden, of being a man of faith who lives before God.

42. On the confession pole, maybe just to say "Be the Christ". Or, in making the confession that Jesus is Lord the demand is seen and the imperative is on my life to be the Christ, or to reduplicate the deed of Christ, and to rearticulate the word of Christ. And then I'd also say to remember, re­member Jesus. Or maybe even to say, to love Jesus is the possibility and the demand. To be the crucifixion, to be the resurrection, to be the people of God, to be the trans­establishment ­­ you see that the trans­establishment is not something which is just something standing between the establishment and the disestablishment, it is something radically other than the establishment and the disestablishment. It's that which lives before God and knows nothing else except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

John Baggett