by John Stamps
If David Bentley Hart (DBH) didn’t exist, it’d be necessary to invent him. He provokes me to rethink basic concepts unlike any other writer that I know. I don’t always agree with him, but I always relish reading him. I am, in fact, a card-carrying subscriber of his Leaves in the Wind substack. His latest book, Tradition and Apocalypse: An Essay on the Future of Christian Belief, is no exception; it’s a stimulating read but pondering its implications is disorienting. In a nutshell, DBH argues that the truth of the Christian tradition is bound to the apocalyptic future every bit as much as it is to the historical past. The new book includes an invigorating affirmation of the fullness of the Christian faith. I love his “Big Bang” Christology. The “singular event” of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth ignites and launches all “dogma, theology, hermeneutics, liturgy, and spiritual disciplines” (p. 12). If you’re looking for a book to reaffirm your primary conviction about Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead on the third day, Tradition and Apocalypse is your book.
But DBH’s latest and greatest is not for readers who are faint of heart. He takes no prisoners. For example, he spares no opportunity to gore Christian fundamentalism. God help you if you’re a Roman Catholic “integralist” or a traditionalist of a certain shape, size, or color. His review of Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy by Thomas Crean and Alan Finister is particularly savage, but entirely well deserved for what DBH calls its “moral disorders” (p. 13).
You might be pleased to note that Tradition and Apocalypse is a relatively small book, less than 200 pages. Even better, you don’t need to compile a DBH glossary to read it. I only had to look up definitions for 11 words.1 Tradition and Apocalypse summarizes quite nicely lines of thought DBH has been pursuing for some time. My Eclectic Orthodoxy review will mostly focus on the “apocalyptic” section of DBH’s book, with an unjaundiced eye towards how DBH reads the Bible. I intend to cover “history” and “tradition” in a later review. I do have some quibbles, but they are minor and they are few.
Apocalypse then and its eclipse now
Let me not-so-briefly summarize DBH’s arguments about apocalypse and apocalyptic theology.
♦ Apocalyptic theology starts with the empty tomb of Jesus
Christian faith is pre-eminently apocalyptic, from start to finish. Per DBH: “Faith is always born in a moment of apocalypse” (p. 43) and “The gospel is nothing if it is not apocalyptic” (p. 131).
To be more concrete, apocalyptic theology begins with the empty tomb. The apocalypse is not pushed out into a distant extended future. The future is now. Because God the Father raised His Son Jesus from the dead, the Last Days are currently upon us. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day completely altered and recast human history. The empty tomb of the crucified and risen Jesus is the eschatological sign par excellence. DBH describes well its shock-and-awe effect:
In this sense, the living tradition, if indeed it is living, is essentially apocalyptic: an originating disruption of the historical past remembered in light of God’s final disruption of the historical (and cosmic) future. One might even conclude that the tradition reveals its secrets only through moments of disruption precisely because it is itself, in its very essence, a disruption: it began entirely as a novum, an unanticipated awakening to something hitherto unknown that then requires the entirety of history to interpret… This is the only true faithfulness to the memory of an absolute beginning, a sudden unveiling without precise precedent: an empty tomb, say, or the voice of God heard in rolling thunder, or the descent of the Spirit like a storm of wind or tongues of fire. In a very real sense, the tradition exists only as a sustained apocalypse, a moment of pure awakening preserved as at once an ever dissolving recollection and an ever renewed surprise. (pp. 142-143)
“Disruption” is the key word here, even if it is an understatement. If we confess with the Nicene Creed that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who rose from the dead on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, we must realize the radical consequences of such a statement. Nothing can ever be the same for a conscientious disciple of Jesus Christ. We can no longer look at our lives and our cosmos in the same way ever again.
The empty tomb is the greatest gauntlet ever thrown down to challenge historicism and its all-embracing, all-determining relativism than which none greater can be conceived. The crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus is the greatest novum of all novorum.
♦ The Risen Christus is Victor over the principalities and powers
If we don’t understand the apocalyptic radix of first-century Christianity, we don’t understand it at all. DBH nicely summarizes what “apocalyptic” Christianity looks like in all its historical novelty:
Even so, it should never be forgotten that Christianity entered human history not as a new creed or sapiential path or system of religious observances, but as apocalypse: the sudden unveiling of a mystery hidden in God before the foundation of the world in a historical event without any possible precedent or any conceivable sequel; an overturning of all the orders and hierarchies of the age, here on earth and in the archon-thronged heavens above; the overthrow of all the angelic and demonic powers and principalities by a slave legally crucified at the behest of all the religious and political authorities of his time, but raised up by God as the one sole Lord over all the cosmos; the abolition of the partition of Law between peoples; the proclamation of imminent arrival of the Kingdom and of the new age of creation; an urgent call to all persons to come out from the shelters of social, cultural, and political association into a condition of perilous and unprotected exposure, dwelling nowhere but in the singularity of this event—for the days are short. (p. 135)
This is 100-proof unadulterated Christus Victor theology. As DBH translates John 16:33: “Take heart—I have conquered the cosmos.” Jesus Christ has triumphed over the principalities, powers, thrones, and dominions. The good news of the Gospel is God’s invasion, conquest, spoliation, and triumph over the heavenly, terrestrial, spiritual, and physical powers.
DBH insists that God’s revelation of Himself is most clearly seen in no place other than a crucified Jewish slave. This is St Paul’s theology of salvation in a nutshell. Apocalyptic Christianity is the realization that Jesus Christ engaged in combat and conquest against the spiritual powers of darkness in the heavenly places and won.
But as DBH diagnoses the state of 21st century Christianity, he argues we forgot apocalyptic Christianity a long, long time ago.
♦ We rendered unto Caesar the things that belonged to God
Where did it all go wrong? DBH tells the sad and tragic tale of us Christians living in Christendom confused about our identity. We Christians sold our theological birthright for a mess of politically expedient pottage. The Christendom experiment is dead, gone, kaput. We should have known better. Jesus Christ has triumphed over the principalities and powers through His crucifixion. In DBH’s translation, “Stripping the Archons and Powers, he exposed them in the open, leading them prisoner along with him in a triumphal procession” (Col 2:15). The principalities and powers had previously held us in thrall. But Christ unmasked them and now we are freed from their delusion, deception, and power. So why for one instant should we ever again have sucked up to them?
And one need only compare all of it (sc. the radical apocalyptic faith of previous Christian generations) to the later social and institutional realities and theological concerns of imperial Christendom, or to modern Western culture’s comfortable bourgeois cult of civic respectability and personal prosperity, or to the free-market capitalist orthodoxies and ridiculous gun-obsessions and barbarous nation-worship of the “Christianity” indigenous to contemporary America (even among the Catholics and Orthodox)—or, for that matter, to countless other variants of Christian adherence throughout history and across the globe—to find oneself hard-pressed to see how any of this could truly be regarded as a single continuous faith, rather than merely a series of historical ruptures, divagations, accidental sequelae, and frequent total inversions. (p. 34)
The Eastern Orthodox cultural accommodation to political systems—indeed, any Christian’s cultural accommodation—has not looked good in retrospect.2 When Christians have caved in to cultural demands and compromised the gospel, history has judged us badly, always, and for good reason. Miraculously the Christian faith manages to survive in spite of our miserable efforts, even though none of our accommodations with political systems has turned out well. The only success stories I know of are when Christian disciples have shown the backbone of their convictions and resisted the powers.
A professed Christian, for instance, so detached from the teachings of Jesus that he or she is willing to argue in favor of capital punishment, or to claim that Christians may blamelessly acquire and keep vast personal wealth, or to embrace libertarian social theory, or to support a certain recently unseated Republican president of the United States, or to champion right-wing Catholic integralism, and so forth is one who is effectively left the Gospel behind and who may justly be regarded as having abandoned the true tradition altogether. (p. 169)
The consequences of this ill-conceived arrangement between Christ and Caesar are devastating to Christian witness in the world. We lost the capacity to witness God’s manifold wisdom to the archons, thrones, dominions, and powers in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10).3
If the teachings of Christ form the indispensable standard of Christian spiritual life, then it is clear that Christianity as a historical project has been in many respects a ghastly failure, and in no way more conspicuously than in many of the terms its institutional embodiments accepted as the price of alliance with empire and state. (p. 171)
Instead of speaking Christ’s truth to spiritual power, we decided instead to collude with them for sheer political expediency.
♦ The Delay of the Parousia
DBH stresses the delay of the Second Coming of Jesus as perhaps the biggest issue that Christian theology has tried to ignore over the centuries. Resurrection was thought to be the singular event that would end history as we know it. But it did not. History continued. Jesus the Messiah arrived and ascended but He arrived and ascended without the Messianic Age that everyone had expected. The earliest Christians eagerly expected His imminent return, His parousia. And they waited. And we waited. And we wait some more. The French New Testament scholar Alfred Loisy summarized this “embarrassing but fairly unarguable fact” with lapidary precision: “Jesus announced the Kingdom and it was the Church that arrived” (p. 67).
The delay of the parousia became a problem for faithful but historically responsible Catholic theologians like Maurice Blondel. Blondel wanted to avoid the sad fate of Loisy, who was excommunicated for his Modernist heresies. But Blondel managed to impale himself on both horns of a dilemma. One horn of the dilemma was “extrinsicism,” i.e., the dogma of the church never changes. The other horn was “historicism,” i.e., all dogma can be reduced to the contingent processes of history, “more or less without remainder” (pp. 70-71). It is well-nigh impossible to juggle
the apparent expectation on the part of Jesus and the early Christians of an imminent end of history and arrival of the kingdom and, on the other, the evident facts of history’s obstinate, indeed millennial refusal to end and of the evolution of the institutional church instead.” (p. 77)
St Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers altered the Second Temple expectations to explain the inexplicable resurrection of Jesus from the dead on the third day. Jesus of Nazareth came and fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. But certainly not in the way that anybody had expected.
DBH repeats repeatedly the commonplace platitude among scholars and theologians that the early church expected the imminent return of Jesus and were deeply disillusioned that He did not return quickly. According to 20th-century conventional wisdom, the early Christians were bitterly discouraged when the Son of Man did not return as expected. The institutional church is the resulting disappointment. But maybe there was no massive disillusionment over the delay of the parousia. Our problems lie elsewhere.
It’s at this point I can start my critique of DBH’s little book. Here are my quibbles.
Reading the Bible with DBH
One of the biggest strengths of Tradition and Apocalypse is how DBH defamiliarizes the Bible for us. He makes it a strange and enchanting book to read again. He forces us to stop and think seriously about Scripture’s meanings, literal and otherwise. Reading the Bible becomes a strange new world.4
Quibble #1 — Sometimes DBH is not piteously literal enough
DBH claims his New Testament translation is “piteously” literal. But his translation and explanation of John 1:1 is not literal enough (pp. 113-119). Perhaps for shock value, DBH exploits a moment of Second Temple ambiguity about what Alan Segal has labeled as the “two powers in heaven” theology: “In the origin there was the Logos, and the Logos was present with GOD, and the Logos was god” (pp. 113-119). But we can do better. DBH missed one definitive article (θεόν avec article) and added unnecessary ambiguity. How about this alternative rendering that nicely preserves the word order of the Greek?
Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was present with the GOD, and GOD was the Logos.
At one stroke even the most biblically illiterate reader can perceive that St John deliberately echoes Genesis 1:1. This Logos—Whatever or Whoever this deuteros logos is—is God’s associate and His agent in creation. If the rabbis didn’t think the Logos compromised or weakened “pure monotheism,” then we shouldn’t either.5
No wait, there’s more. My own translation doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb with the rest of the Gospel. We suffer no cognitive dissonance when Jesus states “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). St John has already prepared us. We know that GOD was the Logos. St John tipped us off just enough so that when St Thomas exclaims, “My LORD and my GOD” (John 20:28), we are suitably shocked. But we are not completely taken by surprise. The resurrected Jesus with nail marks in His hands and feet is LORD and GOD. The declaration by St Thomas is a fitting capstone of the Gospel of John. We don’t suffer theological whiplash when we jump from subordinationism in John 1:1 to the industrial-strength christology in John 20:28. DBH argues that we can’t simply read Nicene Orthodoxy straight off the pages of the New Testament. By comparison, Daniel Boyarin6 suffers no such doubts about the deuteros logos of Philo: “If Philo is not on the road to Damascus here, he is surely on a way that leads to Nicaea and the controversies over the second person of the Trinity.”7
St John’s Gospel doesn’t give us the Trinity quite yet. At best we get a robust Binitarian faith. We need to fill in the details about the Holy Spirit from elsewhere. But we’re not left in doubt about the status of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the only-begotten GOD (John 1:18).
The added bonus is that our translation stands cogently within the realm of meaning of Second Temple Judaism.8 The Logos who is in the Father’s bosom is not the God—the God of course is the Father.9 In the parlance of Aramaic Judaism, Jesus of Nazareth is the Memra of the God who spoke creation into existence.10 The Logos exegetes (ἐξηγήσατο) Him. As Daniel Boyarin explains, John 1:1-5 is neither hymn nor poetry: it’s “midrash,” a very Jewish homily on Genesis 1:1-5 to readers who are already well familiar with the Bible. John 1:1 no longer is a weird anomaly. For readers with ears to hear, St John lets us overhear resounding echoes from a rich intratextual conversation within sacred scripture. We get a front-row seat to a biblical dialogue that eventually leads us to Nicea and Chalcedon, and even beyond, to Barth, Balthasar, Bulgakov, and DBH. The only “innovation” is the “incarnational Christology,” which to me sounds quite innovative indeed. As Boyarin goes on to explain, “John’s Prologue is a piece of perfectly unexceptional Jewish thought that has been seamlessly woven into the christological narrative of the Gospel.” The novelty in St John’s Gospel isn’t the Logos-Memra. That’s standard Second Temple Judaism. The novum is that the Logos-Memra became flesh and His name is Jesus.11
Quibble #2 — Sometimes DBH overstates his case
If only DBH would dial back his rhetoric … oh … 20%. Hyperbole doesn’t help his arguments. For example:
The form of life that was Christianity, by definition, entailed a total renunciation of private property and power; or, rather, it did not merely entail that renunciation: such renunciation was precisely what defined a believer as belonging to the new creation established in Christ… So too the rejection of military service, the proscription of participation in capital punishment, and the refusal to use the courts to seek legal redress for grievances or to have crimes punished. (p. 33)
Did the early Church reject military service in toto, as DBH claims? Au contraire, Diocletian and Galerius became unnerved and panicked at the sheer numbers of Christians in their armies.12 Christians were present everywhere at all levels of Roman society. Tertullian famously quipped, Christians have filled “cities, villages, markets, the camp itself, town councils, the palace, the senate, the forum. All we have left you is your temples… Nearly all the citizens of all your cities are Christians.”13
And there was one very good reason soldiers ended up worshipping the crucified Jewish slave instead of the mystery god Mithras. God loves soldiers. He especially loves to use them to push history forward. Unlike your typical cowardly apostle (say, St Peter), soldiers are courageous. Unlike your typical obdurate prophet (say, Jonah), they know how to take orders and how to give orders. “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matt 8:8-9).
Their strategic placement in the New Testament is startling. Start with John the Baptist. He didn’t dislike soldiers in the way that he detested the Pharisees and Sadducees. John the Baptist honors soldiers enough to address them seriously. He exhorted them to be content with their wages. Don’t behave like gangsters. Don’t shake down people. Don’t use force to violently extort money from them. Don’t be a sycophant (συκοφαντήσητε)—i.e. don’t blackmail them (Luke 3:14). But what is most remarkable of all, he didn’t tell them to stop being soldiers.
Certainly Jesus of Nazareth loved Roman soldiers. He never met a soldier He didn’t like. The highest praise He gives to anyone He ever meets in his short 33-year life is to a Roman centurion. The faith of the Roman soldier amazed Him: “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Matt 8:10). High praise indeed coming from the mouth of our Lord, I recall none higher. The capacity and incapacity of humans for faith was the only thing that ever truly surprised Jesus. In radical contrast to this centurion’s faithfulness, He was boggled by the rank unbelief manifested from his hometown (Mark 6:6).
If we’re pondering apocalyptic theology, we cannot exclude the Holy Spirit’s role in pushing history forward. The apocalyptic role of the Holy Spirit is prominent in Luke/Acts. St Peter insists we live “in the last days” because the prophecy of Joel is now fulfilled in God’s people. He hermeneuted standard “earth-shattering” apocalyptic language and applied it to Pentecost. The cosmos is convulsed to its foundations—“the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and manifest Day of the Lord comes”—because the fire of the Holy Spirit has now filled the upper room (Acts 2:17-21).
But if Pentecost surprised St Peter and the Jews dwelling in Jerusalem, the conversion of Cornelius the Roman centurion staggered him even more. The Holy Spirit reveals to St Peter the massive sea-change about to envelop the people of God. All the standard apocalyptic signs—visions, trances, angels, voices from heaven, and charismata—push Luke’s story forward. And Cornelius wasn’t just any Roman soldier. He commanded the entire Italian cohort. He led several hundred soldiers. What an astounding convert to kickstart a church that is “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all!” (Col 3:11).
Now let’s talk about money and “the total renunciation of private property and power” (p. 34). In fairness to DBH, the entire New Testament is extremely wary of money and possessions, to put it blandly. Offhand, I cannot think of a single New Testament text praising wealth. Greed is condemned without exception. St James can envision no greater folly than a wealthy Christian storing up perishable wealth in the End Times: “Your gold and silver are rusting away and their rust will be a witness against you and will eat up your flesh like fire. You have stored up treasure in the last days” (Jas 5:3).
And yet … St Luke—the one writer who says the most about the use and misuse of possessions than the rest of the New Testament combined—refuses to condemn wealth and the wealthy outright. The most obvious example is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. God did not condemn the rich man for his wealth. Dives ended up tortured in Hades (16:23) because he has ignored the poor man lying directly outside his gates.14 The foolish rich man did not heed Moses and the Prophets. In my own translation of Deuteronomy 15:7-8:
When there shall be among you a poor man from one of your brothers in any of your gates (שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ/shaʻarekah) in your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart and you shall not shut up your hand from your brother, the poor one. For you shall surely open your hand to him and you shall surely lend him enough for his need which will be lacking to him.
The rich man had violated the explicit terms of the covenant explicitly outlined in the Torah.
There is no one-size-fits-all mandate that defined the early church’s attitude to wealth and possessions. Jesus commanded the rich young ruler to sell all he possessed and give to the poor and follow Him (Luke 18:18-30). But He made no such demand of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-9). Martin Hengel acknowledges St Luke is all over the map regarding money and “makes apparently contradictory statements.”15 On the one hand, Luke praises the generous hearts and complete sharing of goods among the earliest community of disciples who were on fire with the Holy Spirit from the flames of Pentecost (Acts 2:44, 4:32). But on the other hand, Luke surprises his readers when Peter rebukes Ananias for lying about sharing all the proceeds of the property he had sold. Peter scolds him, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4). There’s a critical difference between the total renunciation of all private property and God’s encouragement of lavish gestures of extravagant generosity.
More to the point, God’s nets are wide open to any fish He captures. The net won’t break. God will drag fish of every kind to the shore (Matt 13:47). How big is God’s net? Just ponder the sociological and demographic composition of the churches assumed by St Paul and St James. Both take it for granted that wealthy men and women are sitting in their pews, listening to their scathing epistles. “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you!” (Jas 5:1).
“Each one in the calling to which he was called, let him remain in this calling” (1 Cor 7:20). If Jesus could arrive at any time, St Paul’s argument is counter-intuitive. But he didn’t want Christians to act like Millerites or other crazed apocalyptic millenarians. Instead, play your position and don’t mooch off other Christians (2 Thess 3:10-11). If you’re paying attention, God will call you to where He wants you to be. And if you stumble and fall, just remember—there’s always mercy and grace. God loves sinners, even rich ones.
And He especially loves soldiers. Who better can understand “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ e.g. Galatians 2:16, 20) than a U.S. Marine with “Semper Fi” tattooed on his bicep? But will our Marine remain one? Maybe, maybe not. When Jesus called St Peter from his nets to fish for men, he didn’t remain a fisherman. Same with St Matthew when Jesus called him away from his tollbooth. And when Jesus calls soldiers into the Kingdom of God, God will use their courage and obedience. But they likely won’t stay soldiers for long. They cannot. Jesus calls us into a peaceable kingdom. As Tertullian stated so memorably, “Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.”
Quibble #3 — Sometimes DBH is piteously reductionist
DBH is pitilessly literal, by his own admission, but he can also be pitilessly reductionist. He likes to shock his readers. Take his own (mis)reading of Genesis 3. He rubs our noses in a Tree of Life reading that sounds like it was ripped straight out of the Enuma Elish. He summarizes a reductive Ancient Near Eastern story of Yahweh, the Snake, and the Tree:
The original tale, of course, had nothing to do with any notion of original sin or of a great fall requiring an extraordinary divine repair, except in the cloudy way that all of humanity’s myths of a lost beatitude or communion with the gods seem to carry with them a kind of memory of some immemorial loss… In short, it was a fairly typical Mesopotamian story about gods of no moral or intellectual eminence, and of a humanity sadly denied any share in their happiness. (pp. 164-165)
Fair enough. DBH reminds us about the dangers and fatal consequences of eisegeting St Paul with later Christian beliefs that must be read into his difficult writings. “Humans are born damnably guilty in God’s eyes, or good deeds are not required for salvation”16 is just bad Pauline theology. His “more literal than thou” literalism keeps fundamentalists at bay. Fair enough.
But to push back a bit, such a subversively reductive reading of Genesis 3 cannot actually be found anywhere in any actual cuneiform text, moth-eaten leather scroll, or papyrus fragment. For our purposes, the greatest writer of the Bible is not J, E, P, D, Q, or Proto-Mark. Instead we are stuck with the humble and anonymous R, “the Final Editor of the Bible.” Robert Calasso calls R “the most ignored and most decisive” (p. 170) of all the authors of the Bible.17 And R most certainly did think he was writing Scripture. R is that master scribe trained for the Kingdom of Heaven, “who brings forth things old and new from his treasury” (Matt 13:52). We are not mired in the past. Genesis 3, for all its intratextual misreadings with Romans 5:12, is more than pious folklore. It is Scripture. That most sagacious (φρονιμώτατος) serpent of Genesis 3 morphs into the “the dragon, the ancient serpent” of Revelation 20:2. And the best biblical interpreters listen for all the intratextual echoes, allusions, and figural readings of the Bible.
DBH’s persistent habit is to rattle our cages, rub our noses in the historical literality of the text, and then move on. Again, fair enough. But that method becomes tiresome after a while. However we construe the literal meaning of Scripture, our exegesis and our hermeneutics cannot stop there.
What DBH refuses to do, almost by design, is lend his readers a hermeneutical hand or even a finger. His readings tend to stay mired in the past he has retrieved for his readers. That’s fine, as far as he goes and as far as it goes. But even the “literal” level of Scripture is deeply intertextual, with all kinds of hermeneutical hints for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. St Paul himself reminds us in 1 Cor 10:11: “Now these things happened to them figuratively, and were written for the purpose of our admonition, for whom the ends of the ages have arrived.” That’s what a truly apocalyptic reading of Scripture should look like! St Paul’s aeonic reading of the Torah is bold indeed. The Torah wasn’t ultimately intended for its original audience. We who stand at the end of time are its privileged readers. St Paul himself shows us how to be apocalyptic readers. Scripture’s meaning is never exhausted by its literal reference. And DBH admits as such:
For instance, believers should welcome the historical–critical method of reading scripture, not out of any submissive acceptance of historicist prejudices, but as a convenient instrument for overcoming fundamentalist misunderstanding of what scripture is, and perhaps for learning again that, as the best ancient and medieval readers knew, a book’s meaning—like a tradition’s—is not simply resident in its material aetiology. (p. 173)
What DBH taketh away with one hand, he giveth with the other. We cannot reduce the meaning of the Bible to the products of historical-critical exegesis. So what might a fully informed apocalyptic reading of the Bible look like? Karl Barth—once a formidable apocalyptic theologian in his own right in his early career—remarked that if he “were driven to choose between [historical-critical exegesis] and the venerable doctrine of inspiration, I should without hesitation adopt the latter, which has a broader, deeper, more important justification… Fortunately, I am not compelled to choose between the two.”18
We who stand at the end of the ages claim the same historical-critical and hermeneutical freedom. We can cantillate the sacred scriptures with graceful voices. We can pray the Lord’s prayer and call upon the Heavenly Father with boldness and without condemnation, even though we are grossly unworthy. At the same time, we are not forced to abandon rigorous historical inquiry or the latest scholarly paradigms when reading the Bible.
Quibble #4 — Living in the Middle of Time
I get a bit unnerved when DBH makes apodictic statements like the following:
All sound historical and biblical scholarship on these matters leaves no doubt of this (sc. St Paul’s theology of the hostile celestial powers). (p. 150)
As a general rule, none of us should get too comfortable with the findings of biblical scholarship. The so-called “assured results of biblical scholarship” come and go. You think I jest? I do not. For example, who wholeheartedly adheres to the criterion of double dissimilarity, once used to distinguish the authentic sayings of the historical Jesus? The problem is that if you winnow out all the statements of Jesus that sound Jewish and you remove all the statements that sound like they came from the early church, the result is a space-alien non-Jewish Jesus, with no father, no mother, no lineage, no pedigree, and no followers. The methodological leftovers are not the historical Jesus but an idiosyncratic construct. When I was studying the Synoptic Gospels at Princeton Theological Seminary in the early 1980s, no methodological tool was more deeply entrenched in the New Testament guild than the criterion of double dissimilarity. But these days, who could stomach a non-Jewish Jesus?19
The commonplace platitude among scholars and theologians that the early church was bitterly disappointed that He did not return quickly is not exactly terra firma either.
Loisy was right: The Kingdom was preached, but it was the church, with its almost comically corrupt and divisive institutional form, that arrived. The Kingdom did not come—not in the fashion expected, at least, not in the time allotted, not in the twinkling of an eye—and so the ever more visibly hierarchical and depressingly mundane civic institution of the church became the only concrete, tangible form that Christian hope and expectation could now take in this prolonged interval of infinite delay. (p. 138)
According to 20th-century conventional wisdom, the earliest Christians were bitterly disillusioned when the Son of Man did not return as expected. The institutional church is a disappointing legacy. But serious fractures in this scholarly edifice have started to show for some time. Again, no less than Martin Hengel claims that forcing a distinction between a “present” Kingdom versus a “future” Kingdom is nothing less than a “false dichotomy.” We can start with a clear-headed reading of the Gospels themselves. My own pushback is that the delay of the parousia was not much of a problem for the early church after all. It’s a scholarly construct invented by Johannes Weiss, Albert Schweitzer, and Martin Werner and has become a shibboleth for modern biblical scholarship. But in fact, there are as many responses to the delay of the parousia as there are writers in the New Testament. Each writer accommodates the issue just fine, each in his own way.
But even more basic, Albert Schweitzer and his followers up to the present-day fundamentally misunderstand the nature of biblical prophecy. No prophecy, not even the imminence of parousia, is predetermined. Prophecy is entirely contingent upon human cooperation. Sergius Bulgakov already knew this back in 1944:
The goals of God are unalterable and irrevocable, but the paths to them can differ; and these differences, inessential for the whole, can turn out to be essential for individual destinies and achievements. This leads to the possibility of conditional prophecies and, as Scripture shows, to the fact that they are not irrevocable. The most expressive example is, of course, Jonah’s prophecy of the destruction of Nineveh.21
There was no urgent expectation for Jesus Christ to return imminently simply because the prophecies of Jesus were conditional like all ancient biblical predictions. Jesus was a prophet in the mold of Jeremiah and especially Jonah. I offer my own translation of Jonah 3:9: “Who knows (מִי-יוֹדֵעַ/mi yodea), God may turn and repent and turn from the burning of His nose, so that we might not perish?” For both Jonah and the One who is greater than Jonah (Matt 12:41), God changed His mind to allow space and time for humans to repent. Not coincidentally, this is essentially 2 Peter’s argument about the delay of the parousia.22
Take St Paul. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, he can breathlessly insist to his readers that the Parousia will come like a thief in the night and you must be ready and awake. You don’t need to grieve for brothers and sisters who have died in Christ. Most assuredly they will not miss the Parousia. “Then we the living who remain will be seized together with them among clouds, into the Lord’s escort through the air; and thus we shall be with the Lord always.” At first blush it sounds like St Paul expected to be alive when Jesus returned. This passage for good reason has become the locus classicus proof-text for the imminent return of the Lord Jesus. But then 2 Thessalonians dampens those fervent hopes. There’s no need for the Thessalonians to get “morbidly excited” because Jesus’ return cannot possibly happen yet (2:1-8).23
Albert Schweitzer might not have invented the delay of the parousia paradigm. But he certainly popularized it. When Jesus preached the radical ethics of the Kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Schweitzer claims that the historical Jesus never intended them to be a social program to reform society. Schweitzer characterized them as Die Interimsethik—“interim ethics.” Of course the commands to sell your possessions and turn the other cheek to your oppressor were unrealistic. The disciples were supposed to follow them only in the short interim before the coming of the Kingdom. But as you read St Matthew’s Gospel, you quickly realize Matthew has already de-delayed his Gospel from all imminent expectations. He doesn’t feel any anxiety at all about the Parousia taking far longer to appear than anyone ever expected. In fact, Jesus repeatedly states in His parables that “my master is taking a long time” (24:48), “the bridegroom is taking a long time” (25:5), and the householder finally returns from his journey only “after a long time” (25:14, 15, 19). St Matthew quite deliberately composed his Gospel as a manual of Christian discipleship for Christians expected to wait in the long haul.24
But most intriguing of all is how St Luke reframes the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the history of Jesus Christ and His church. “All that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1) in Luke’s hands becomes a sizable two-volume work.25 The story of Jesus does not end with the resurrection and the ascension. Hans Conzelmann wrote a theology of St Luke titled in German as Die Mitte der Zeit, that is, The Middle of Time.26 It’s St Luke’s own way to deal with the apocalyptic event of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the midpoint and center of God’s time. But we are now living in the time of the church. Luke would beg to differ with Loisy. Luke recognized that history continues, but we must still proclaim the Kingdom of God, even (especially?) in the time of the church. The perfect conclusion to Acts offers the perfect rejoinder to Loisy:
And (Paul) remained a whole two years in his own rented lodgings and received all who came to him, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning Jesus the Anointed, with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:30-31)
This is why Luke wrote the book of Acts. And the later you date Luke/Acts, the better. The time of the church is in full effect and St Paul is still preaching the Kingdom of God. In summary, I don’t perceive the NT as particularly “anxious” that the Second Coming didn’t arrive as quickly as St Paul expects in 1 Thessalonians. We can see that the New Testament makes various adjustments, but then it simply moves on. And DBH himself acknowledges this inaugurated-but-not-yet-consummated eschatology:
The Kingdom was drawing near; the Kingdom had already partly arrived; indeed, the Kingdom was already within, waiting to be revealed to the cosmos in the glory of the children of God. (p. 136)
If there is apocalyptic anxiety in the NT, it concerns one huge unresolved and painful question that haunts us to this very day. If Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Jewish Messiah long-expected by the Jewish people, then why did the Jewish people reject Him? Certainly St Paul agonizes over the issue in Romans 9-11. And the Four Gospels and Acts offer one classic terrifying apocalyptic answer to this troublesome apocalyptic question. According to Isaiah’s prophecy, God has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts so that they cannot believe even if they wanted to (Matthew 13:14-15, Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10, John 12:40, Acts 28:26-27).
My criticisms of DBH are mere quibbles. I muddy the waters a bit and that’s it. DBH’s essential arguments all hold true. All the best exegesis in the world can’t save us Christians from ourselves and our sinful follies. We need more than better reading habits. Plowing through Tradition and Apocalypse is not a cheerful exercise. DBH is not optimistic about much of anything in the Christian world, East or West. And who can blame him?
It would be no exaggeration to say that, viewed entirely in historical perspective, cultural and institutional “Christianity” has, for most of its history, consisted in the systematic negation of the Christianity of Christ, the apostles, and the earliest church. (p. 35)
You don’t believe DBH? You think he’s exaggerating? I sure don’t. You don’t need to read Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to ponder one set of alternative facts versus a different set. We don’t need a fact check here. Just read the latest edition of the New York Times or the Washington Post.
On February 27 380 A.D., the Roman emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica making Christianity—specifically Nicene Orthodoxy—the official “religion” of the Roman Empire.27 On February 24, 2022—1642 years later—one Nicene Orthodox country (Russia) invaded another Nicene Orthodox country (Ukraine). We might be horrified. We might be shocked. But we shouldn’t be surprised. When Constantine had declared Christianity to be a tolerated religion (religio licita), the relationship of Jesus Christ to political power was forever changed. We feel the aftershocks to the present day.
This outbreak of warfare between two ostensibly “Christian” nations is outrageous at any number of levels. What we moderns think it means to be a Christian would be absolutely unrecognizable to any Christian living prior to Constantine’s empire.
I never expected a global pandemic in my lifetime. Who did? Yet even more surprising is a replay of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 in the Year of our Lord 2022. DBH states:
Here, I want to emphasize just how chaotic a picture the (sc. historical) record really presents to an impartial eye. How quickly, after all—a few centuries at most—even the most prominent features of the faith were altered almost beyond recognition by the imperial culture into which the faith was integrated from the time of Constantine on. (p. 33)
DBH encourages us to live, think, and act like the earliest disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, not like ideologues propping up the status quo. He wants us to retrieve the sheer brio of Christian theology with all its magnificently outrageous claims. If we claim that tradition is the living faith of the dead and not the dead faith of the living (Jaroslav Pelikan), DBH shows us where the faith was indeed once alive.
And this deeply heterogeneous picture becomes especially unconvincing when it is employed to explain away obvious instances of profound disjunction within the historical record: such as, again, the transition within Christian tradition from the radical social and economic and moral precepts of the earliest Church, which were so absolutely essential to its sense of mission and its self-understanding, to the entirely incompatible and indeed inimical practices of the Christianity of later Christendom. (pp. 89-90)
He then shows us where tradition is now dead or on life-support. DBH paints quite a picture of what the apocalyptic theology of the New Testament and the early church looked like, before the “failed and inherently defective fusion of the realms of Christ and of Caesar that underlay the power of the imperial church” (p. 174). But the shotgun wedding between Church and Empire transmogrified the Gospel of Jesus beyond all recognition. The apocalyptic event of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, formed and shaped a people. Jesus Christ intended to build a cruciform and transfigured church, a church content to live on the margins of society, shaped by the apocalyptic event. Instead of theologians, prophets, and priests who speak truth to power, these days we have the ideologues, shills, and false prophets who grovel and kowtow before the principalities and powers and co-opt the church into joining them.
DBH, himself Orthodox, doesn’t criticize us Orthodox with the same severity that he criticizes our Roman Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters. In retrospect, we deserve far greater condemnation. It was not, it is not, and it never will be our task to tame the principalities and powers for the purposes of creating a Christian empire. We must resist our temptation to sacramentalize them. The church’s task, rather, is to expose and resist them. God forbid that we should ever become chaplains and cheerleaders to the principalities and powers in the interests of sacramentalizing the cosmos. Something is definitely wrong with Orthodox Christianity when Vladimir Putin is now the most dangerous man on Planet Earth and the Russian Orthodox Church refuses to condemn him. Indeed, his lapdog Patriarch Kyrill fawns over Putin.
If I read DBH correctly, Eastern Orthodoxy can no longer exclusively rely on the false memories of a dangerous triumphalist past. By design, we must start looking to God’s future. Please forgive the following software analogy, but I am, after all, a technical writer at a Silicon Valley software company.
The time is ripe for a new major release of Orthodoxy 2.0. The infamous “Milvian Bridge” release (the Beta version of Orthodoxy 1.0 was released in 312 AD) was flawed from the start. Constantine painting a cross on his army’s shields before they slaughtered their enemies turned out not to be such a great feature after all. It was infected by buggy software and introduced numerous glitches, faults, and defects into the system. And the marketing slogan—By this sign, conquer—was a misleading disaster. We need a new release of Open Source Orthodoxy to re-introduce the kenotic Son of God, the Prince of Peace, crucified and risen from the dead on the third day, back into the system. Many faithful Christians are helping to design Orthodoxy 2.0 and it is generously distributed under a fully Jim Forest, Dorothy Day, and Jacques Ellul-compliant license (hereafter known as “JFDDJE”) which grants all the rights to Protestants, Catholics, agnostics, unchurched, apostates, Nones, and atheists of good will to use, study, change, and share. The Sermon on the Mount—even the radical “turn the other cheek” component—comes installed as a default feature, not an option. This updated version of Orthodoxy 2.0 is fully deputinized and dekyrillized. No more pseudo-monastic fundamentalism. No more Uber-trad rightwing racist autocratic ideologues. The tired ghosts of Russo-Byzantine triumphalism are exorcised once and for all. Orthodoxy 2.0 embraces the following challenge with which DBH concludes:
Faith is the will to let the past be reborn in the present as more than what until now had been known, and the will to let the present be shaped by a future yet to be revealed. Hope is the conviction that that revelation will not only fulfill but far exceed the promise that the tradition preserves within itself. And, in the end, faith and hope will both pass away, or rather pass over into perfect love—which is, at the last, another name, and perhaps the highest, for that final horizon that calls all thought and all of creation to itself. (p. 188)
This is what Orthodoxy 2.0 should strive for. Stay tuned for my next installment on tradition and history.
 If you must know: recherché, misprisions (not what I thought it meant), purblindness (this word too), divagations, sequelae, catachrestic, curvets, diegetic, ductility, bibulous, and fissile. I already knew what bricolage meant from reading Jeffrey Stout.
 Without too much prejudice, we can call this Church-State/Christ-Caesar synthesis either Caesaropapism or Constantinianism.
 Remember that we are contending “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
 The early Karl Barth would like it.
 Thus Daniel Boyarin: “So any evidence for Jewish binitarianism does not constitute a ‘weakening’ of pure monotheism, any more than Christian trinitarianism does, except from the point of view of Modalists such as rabbinic Jews, who regard it as heresy, of course.” Cited in “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” Harvard Theological Review, 94 (July 2001): 261, n. 64.
 Daniel Boyarin is the Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture in the Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. What a weird thing it is that students can study Talmud at UC Berkeley with the most famous Talmudist alive. There might be hope for us Californians yet.
 Boyarin, “The Gospel of the Memra,” p. 251.
 The literature on Second Temple Judaism is vast. I’d start with Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah (Second Edition) by George W. E. Nickelsburg (2011). And you could do much worse than reading the notes and essays in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (2nd Edition), edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (2017).
 Boyarin thinks St John is riffing on Numbers 11:12. The Logos is God’s beloved child (pp. 283-284). “For the rabbinic text, the beloved child that the Father carries in his bosom, the son or daughter of God, is the Torah; for the earlier midrash of the Fourth Gospel, she [Wisdom] was the Logos, the Son.”
 The Aramaic word memra (מימרא) is related to the Hebrew verb amar (אָמַר) used in Genesis 1:3: “And God said …”
 For additional reflections about the Logos in John’s Gospel by Daniel Boyarin, see Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (2004), pp. 89-147.
 Per John McGuckin in “A Conflicted Heritage: The Byzantine Religious Establishment of a War Ethic“: “The Constantinian age changed attitudes, but it was not a move from pacifism to militarism. Christians were now a dominant force within the army and the imperial court whereas before they had been a minority, a fact that alarmed Diocletian and Galerius considerably, and led to the outbreak of the Great Persecution. They were such a force that even years of purges could not unseat them, and after Constantine they would not be ready to relinquish power again” (p. 35).
 Tertullian might be spouting a bit of hyperbole as well.
 Oddly enough, St Luke here doesn’t echo his beloved Septuagint (LXX) as usual but instead the Hebrew text itself. The LXX translates שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ/shaʻarekah as “your cities.”
 Martin Hengel, Property and Riches in the Early Church (1974), p. 50.
 From DBH’s online article, “Everything you know about the Gospel of Paul is likely wrong.” I don’t think it’s in print yet.
 The Book of All Books (2021). I think “R” stands for “Redactor,” or better yet, the German word “Redaktor.” Calasso didn’t specifically say. In any case, R stands for the anonymous editor of the books of the Bible in their final, canonical shape that we have received today.
 Karl Barth, “The Preface to the First Edition (1918),” in The Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1933), p. 1.
 For my money, the best deconstruction of the criteria of dissimilarity is Morna D. Hooker, “On Using the Wrong Tool,” Theology 75, no. 629 (November 1972): 570–81. It’s still a great read.
 Jesus and Judaism (2019) by Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, p. 427. See also pp. 185-202.
 The Bride of the Lamb, p. 342.
 For arguments along this line, see When the Son of Man Didn’t Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia (2016) by Christopher Hays and others.
 G.B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible (1980), p. 252.
 The second ending of St John’s Gospel also prepares us for what is potentially a very long wait for Jesus to return: “If I wish him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:15-23)
 27.5 percent of the New Testament. St Luke wrote more than St Paul.
 Why oh why didn’t the translator translate Conzelmann’s German title into English instead of the bland, misleading The Theology of St Luke?
 I deliberately put the word “religion” into scare quotes. What we post/moderns mean by “religion” and what pre-moderns meant by “religion” are two entirely different things. A massive sea change in the meaning of “religion” took place in the modern world. For a fascinating discussion of the entire process, start with Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (2013).