Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
August 1st, 2017 by Joel Watts

Reading Barron: noncompetitive kenosis?

I keep seeing, much to my chagrin, quote and quote on my Facebook wall from Richard Rohr and his idea that we need to somehow escape the idea of a violent atonement. By the way, this is not St. Anselm‘s invention. Anyway, let’s step back and look at the assumption of humanity by Jesus — otherwise and uniquely known as the Incarnation.

I like how Bishop Robert Barron puts it:

…The central affirmation of classical Christianity is that in Jesus of Nazareth God and humanity met in a noncompetitive and nonviolent way…

At Chalcedon, the two natures…

…together “without mixing, mingling, or confusion” in a hypostatic union, producing one who is perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity. This implies that the human mind, will, passion, and freedom of Jesus are brought to fullest pitch precisely through their union with the incarnating God. And this in turn says something of great importance about the divine. If the incarnation is an accomplished fact, then the presence of the true God is not invasive or interruptive but rather noncompetitive….God does not have to assert his prerogatives in an aggressive way over and against the claims of the created will, and hence voluntarism obtains on neither side of the Creator-creature divide. And this is precisely why Jesus throws everything off. He upsets a worldview predicated upon the primordiality of competition and ontological violence, replacing it with a vision predicated upon the primordiality of relationship and mutual indwelling.1

I am reading through this book, and find that already his weight is felt. What does this have to say about the atonement? Guess we will see.

But what it does establish is a way at looking at the Incarnation. It doesn’t destroy the unique Incarnation, nor subjugate a High Christology into moral therapeutic deism. Rather, it seeks to establish the role of Christ in all things. At the center.

In the next paragraph, Barron goes on the relate Jesus’ first encounters after the Resurrection. If Christianity is violent, then we would expect the triumph of the King who had just defeated the powers to act here. To have Jesus act with revenge would be just. Jesus could have condemned the Jews and the Romans to death, could have ridden the skies in absolute savagery. But, as Barron points out, “The crucified Jesus returned alive to those who had abused, abandoned, denied, and fled from him, but he confronted them not with threats and vengeance but with the nonviolence of compassion and forgiveness.”

Let me add, because this is where I’ve stopped reading for the day, that this is accomplished not because Jesus were mere man, but because Jesus is God the Son, the Only Begotten Son of God.

My heart is towards Rome. Reading Barron and other Catholic theologians only makes it harder to resist. 

  1. Robert Barron, The Priority of Christ: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007), 16–17.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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