Today begins the first post in a series of engagements around Nathan R. Kerr's Christ, History, and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission. Nate's book has recently been released simultaneously in the United States through Cascade Books in their Theolopolitical Visions series (Amazon.com link), and in the United Kingdom by SCM Press in the Centre of Theology and Philosophy's Veritas series (Amazon.co.uk link). (I should add that Cascade Books is still offering a 40% off discount if purchased through their site using the discount code "KERR40", bringing the cost of the book down significantly more.)
As is common, each post will be accompanied by an image of the book cover. However, due to the simultaneous printing of this book on two presses, there are two covers of the book, so I will be using them interchangably. The cover below is from the Cascade Books version, and the next post will be from the SCM Press version (which I actually designed with the photographic vision of Sara Cunningham-Bell, which is why I couldn't resist mentioning this!).
The first post comes from Joshua Davis who is a Ph.D. candidate at Vanderbilt University. Josh addresses the introductory chapter 1 as well as the conceptual trajectory of the work. I had the pleasure of meeting both Nate and Josh in Nashville, Tennessee last May while I was in town for a business trip for my (now) former employer, and we couldn't help but talk theology and philosophy the whole time.
Please feel free to add your own thoughts and comments below, especially if you have already read Christ, History and Apocalyptic, and if you have not done so, it's not too late to catch up.
It is an honor to have the opportunity to introduce this public discussion of Nate Kerr's fascinating study, Christ, History, and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission. It is an honor because I anticipate that the publication of this work will mark the emergence of a fresh theological perspective that is as important as it is distinct. Yet, even this is a relatively minor concern for me because, in the six years I have known him, Nate has become not only an important colleague and interlocutor, but also my friend. And, as such, I do not know this work as one more book of ideas, but as something of an angel with whom I have seen him wrestle, an encounter in whose wake I know him now to limp.
I mention this only because it seems to me his work may not be read for the kind of theological reflection it is - that is, per Evagrius' dictum, one that seeks to open out onto that true prayer that is the praise of the Father. There is a risk, it seems to me, that this work may be interpreted as one more instance of "Barthian" hyperbole and polemic, as repeating an outmoded "modernist" and "punctualist" understanding of the nature/grace relation, as propounding a "Docetic" ecclesial vision, or as a retreat into a fideistic mythological cosmology. I am not unsympathetic to such concerns; Nate's theological sensibilities are, generally speaking, the precise obverse of my own. But, such claims, I charge, obscure the real challenge Nate's argument poses. What can it mean to argue that certain critical and somewhat characteristic moves made by Barth, Hauerwas, as well as the most "community"-oriented aspects of Yoder, repeat a Hegelian gesture, inherited from Troeltsch, that is not only woefully inadequate in its rejection of mission and apocalyptic as essential aspects of the Christian witness, but is, consequently, irreducibly ideological and - what is perhaps worse for the Hauerwasian - Constantianian? I will leave this question for the readers and respondents to consider as this discussion proceeds. By raising it, I do not mean to suggest it is the only or even the most important question the book poses, but that it is one that must be put into relief at the beginning of any discussion of the work, if that discussion is not to repeat the very positions it seeks to put in the dock.
I have elected so far to speak very generally about the force of this work. Yet I believe it is also important, as a way of introducing this discussion, to underscore the simplicity of its claim. Nate names it quite clearly in the opening sentence of the introduction. What he seeks, throughout the book to investigate, is "what mode of thinking about history and the historical character of human action renders the 'truth' of the earliest and most straightforward Christian confession, that of Jesus Christ's 'lordship' - kurios Iesous - for our world today?" The subject of the book, then, is Jesus' lordship - what it means to affirm it in history, in practice, and, most importantly, in the present. This is what Nate's language of "singularity" is meant to highlight: the nature, uniqueness, and finality enshrined in the claim "Jesus is Lord."
Additionally, I should note that the most important, indeed the most illuminating and revolutionary, aspect of Nate's development of this theme occurs in his wholesale rejection of Boethius' development of Plato's understanding of time (i.e., history) as "the moving image of eternity." This is a theme too rich and complex to take up here, and is best left to Nate to develop in his response to others. I would urge the readers and respondents, though, to pay close attention to this theme, for it is of a piece with his overarching apocalyptic orientation and essential to his rejection of Hegel. In this theme, we begin to catch a glimpse of the truly original and transformative insight that animates this work. J. Louis Martyn has developed this theme in detail, though in quite different terms, throughout his body of work. It is the truth regarding Jesus that Paul insists God "apocalypsed" in him (Gal. 1:15-16), the good news that sent (apostelo) him to the Gentiles: the news that in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, God has triumphed over every power and principality, and sends us now into the world to inhabit history in such a way as to render it transparent to the Kingdom, which is our share in God's life.
Ph.D. Candidate, Theological Studies