Jeffrey F. Keuss
University of Glasgow
...You think – because it is becoming plain to the modern eye that the ignorant love of his first followers wreathed his life in legend, that therefore you can escape from Jesus of Nazareth, you can put him aside as though he had never been? Folly! Do what you will, you cannot escape him. His life and death underlie our institutions as the alphabet underlies our literature.
he struggle to 'figure the Christ' through various means and media represents a continual search for not only the content of the figure in question (what makes up and makes possible this union of human and sacred) but ultimately the form within which this figuring is shown and understood. John McIntyre, in his Warfield Lectures delivered at Princeton Theological Seminary, begins his discussion of christology and christocentrism by employing a term not typically used in doctrinal discourse – shape. As McIntyre rightly states, "if we were asked to give in a summary form the distinguishing characteristic of Protestant theology in our time, many of us would reply that it is its christocentric quality which claims this title. And the evidence would be convincing". As McIntyre goes on to surmise:
It is by this time clear, then, that christology has come to exercise in theology a range of functions for which it was not originally designed: in this range we find exegetical, expository and hermeneutical as well as normative and critical elements… classical christology has come under severe strain in these new settings in which it has of late found itself and a crisis has begun to develop which can only be resolved by a radical reassessment of the basic shape of this central doctrine of the Christian faith as today expressed.McIntyre rightly notes that there is indeed a continued search for the basic shape of this central doctrine of the Christian faith that is the nature of Christ and it goes back to the very foundations of the Church itself.
only-begotten Son of God;Interestingly enough, the creed also presents a condemnation of those who did not 'fit' Christ into this shape. This is marked in the original form of the Nicene Creed which concludes with a portion originally added as an anathema against the Arians: "But to those who say: 'There is a time when He was not'; and 'He was not before he was made'; and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance or essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable or alterable' – they are condemned by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church". Where a creed is to be an assertion of faith (the term coming from the Latin credo, "I believe") this original rendering stands as a statement against "I don't believe" as much as a statement for certain beliefs. The poetics thereby make claims that overturn the very definition of the genre itself (i.e. what constitutes Credo) through its construction as a work and the claims it makes on how it is to be read. In this way, the poetics of the creed (and of much literature as I will argue throughout this essay) makes claims that at times are more profound than the actual content or genre the work supposedly represents.
Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God;
Begotten, not made;
Being of one substance with the Father;
By whom all things were made...
The question of the historical Jesus is such a familiar one today that it is difficult for us to realise how recent a question it is. For more than 1600 years the idea of asking such a question never arose. More precisely, in the minds of the Christian interpreters of the Bible there was no difference between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of the Church's proclamation. Insofar as the Christian scriptures spoke of the incarnation of God at a particular point in human affairs, the accuracy of their reports was taken for granted.
But for this task [of interpreting scripture] we need a method and order similar to that which we employ in interpreting Nature from the facts presented before us… we must first seek from our study of Scripture that which is most universal and forms the basis and foundation of all Scripture; in short, that which is commended in Scripture by all the prophets as doctrine eternal and most profitable for all mankind…Scripture does not teach formally, and as eternal doctrine. On the contrary, we have clearly shown that the prophets themselves were not in agreement on these matters, and therefore on topics of this kind we should make no assertion that claims to be the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, even though the natural light of reason may be quite decisive on that point. … with regard to the meaning of revelation, it should be observed that this method only teaches us how to discover what the prophets really saw or heard, and not what they intended to signify or represent by the symbols in question. The latter we can only guess at, not infer with certainty from the basis of Scripture.  (emphasis added)
But since these secrets [the secrets of the Kingdom of God disclosed in Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10] consist merely of an explanation of figurative concepts and the explanation, insofar as it is stripped of parable, in turn contains nothing more than the common knowledge of the promised Kingdom of God under the Messiah, one must confess that no really new or incomprehensible precepts are to be found among these secrets. Take note from this, to what extent people let themselves be deceived by words! Today we are accustomed to understanding by the word 'faith' or 'gospel' the whole body of Christian doctrine that we are to believe, or all the articles of the Christian faith in their interconnection, the entire catechism and the creed, and we particularly call 'mysteries' those doctrines that surpass understanding and that are neither to be understood or proved by reason alone.
Between religion and literature … there is a linguistically based dispute. But it is not a dispute of simple opposites. Because whereas religion seeks to privilege one language above all others, one set of values above all others, one text above all others, the novel has always been about the way in which different languages, values and narratives quarrel, and about the shifting relations between them, which are relations of power. The novel does not seek to establish a privileged language, but it insists upon the freedom to portray and analyse the struggle between the different contestants for such privileges.
As Rushdie correctly surmises, the move into the realm of the fictive that is represented by forms such as the novel is a move away from the privileging of "one language above all others" and an approach toward a poetics that acknowledges the hope for "the freedom to portray and analyse the struggle" inherent in such a search.
a full coming together of total opposites, the opposites of total ending and total beginning, and the totally old world or aeon and a totally new aeon or world…a coincidentia oppositorum is at the very centre of the Christian epic, as is a calling forth and voyage into an apocalyptic totality, and [the Christian] epic totality is an apocalyptic totality if only because it embodies such a radical and total transformation. Here, this transformation is deepest in envisioning the depths of the Godhead itself, depths that are apocalyptic depths, and hence depths unveiling a new Godhead only by bringing an old Godhead to an end.
To enter this parabolic enactment through the medium of literature is to take on a poetics of Jesus which will reverse every image of Jesus we have known if we are to be open to his contemporary and apocalyptic presence. Just such a reversal has continually occurred in the Christian imagination, a reversal not only of given images of Jesus, but also, and even thereby, a reversal of all given Christian images of God.This statement bears striking similarity to contemporary post-structuralist writers such as Jacques Derrida, who, while resolutely determined not to be considered as a 'religious' writer, actually attempts to form such a poetics that Altizer argues is at the very heart of the person of Jesus. Jesus, as that subject of writing where subjectivity is both constructed and destroyed simultaneously, bears marked resemblance to that which Derrida argues for in his essay "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" from Writing and Difference.
...the [Church] lives in a strange and healing paradox disclosed… throughout the scriptures: so deeply into one's existence does the unmasking radicality of the Word strike that the radical contingency and ambiguity of all culture, all civilisation, all institutions, even nature itself [in sum, the "world"] are unmasked by the same Word which commands and enables work for the world, and more concretely for the neighbour. This Christian insight into the conventionality, the arbitrariness, the radical contingency of all culture, all nature and all institutions has a reverse side: the radical ambiguity of all culture, nature, institutions – all the world – and their constant temptation to self-aggrandisement and self-delusion. Yet this very same insight into the radical contingency and real ambiguity of the world posits itself not only by negating all "worldly" pretensions to divinity, atemporality, eternity, but also by positing the command and the possibility of living in and for this contingent, ambiguous, created and divinely beloved "world".Tracy goes on to say that "rather than repeating the domesticated slogans that presume to capture this dialectic ("The [Church] is in the world, but not of it"), it seems more correct to say that the[Church] is released (the violent imagery is exact) from the world, for the world".
the determination of Being as presence in all senses of this word. It could be shown that all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the centre have always designated an invariable presence – eidos, arche, telos, energeia, ousia (essence, existence, substance, subject) aletheia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth.
This power is, on the one hand, rhetorical, yet on the other hand, substantial and real. But words do not necessarily establish what the object is; they instead participate in "a history of meanings". Moreover, to make a claim of identity based on signifiers such as Jesus takes the form of both a metaphor (x=y or "this" is to "that") and a metonymy (a name change, Christ is now Jesus), so that what the import sought through form and content may still be different from what either the metaphor or the metonymy can suggest. The face we may seek for– the authentic Jesus – is not to be found. The face we do figure "is neither the face of God nor the figure of man: it is their resemblance. A resemblance which, however, we must think before, or without, the assistance of the Same". We who seek this 'face' are in the space between
the difference between the same and the other, which is not a difference or a relation among others, has no meaning in the infinite… this horizon is not the horizon of the infinitely other, but of a reign in which the difference between the same and the other, differánce, would no longer be valid, that is, of a reign in which peace itself will no longer have meaning."We live in and of difference," according to Derrida. If Derrida's assertion is true, where does import reside?
... [O]ne has to go through the experience of deconstruction" to find another way, a new way, all the time.In the end, I am proposing a rhetorical strategy whereby one actually says more than one appears to have said. The interplay found in the "rupture" of the signs that denote Jesus whether in the poetic space or within the space of a kerygmatic community can lead to a new space for Jesus to be 'authentic' in the full Heideggerian sense. In many ways I am arguing for a poetics of Jesus where entering within is not certain nor safe, a place that is "the undiscovered country" of Hamlet's musings and a place that is closest to Derrida's sense of "autobiography" as writing that is most enigmatic and most open. This is a place that returns to forming questions of life writ large, where people gather and that gathering becomes the defining character. It is a place that is open always to possible destruction of the pre-conceived, yet passionate for the clearing act of being-in-the-world and being-for-the-world. As Derrida has said, the space of literature "allows one to say everything. To say everything is no doubt to gather, by translating, all figures into one another, to totalize by formalizing, but to say everything is also to break out of prohibitions". In the midst of the "New Quest" for the Historical Jesus, New Testament scholar Günther Bornkamm stated in the opening sentence of Jesus of Nazerath that "[n]o one is any longer in the position to write a life of Jesus". Yet there remains the drive as seen in many contemporary writers to tell, in the words of George Eliot, "the simple story" that is always concerned to tell all stories and ultimately to tell them all through a poetics that finds its form in a poetic incarnation of the one whom Schweitzer felt "comes to us as one unknown…"
 Mrs. Humphrey Ward, Robert Elsmere 9th edition (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1888 ) p. 495.
 John McIntyre, The Shape Of Christology (London: SCM Press, 1966) p. 9.
 ibid., p. 11.
 To recollect Paul Tillich's use of the phrase in reference to that which is of highest good and meaning. In "On the Idea of a Theology of Culture", Paul Tillich distinguishes between content, form, and import, to which he links the terms autonomy, heteronomy, and theonomy. "Substance or import is something different from content. By content we mean something objective in its simple existence, which by form is raised up to the intellectual-cultural sphere. By substance or import, however, we understand the meaning, the spiritual substantiality, which alone gives form its significance. We can therefore say: Substance or import is grasped by means of a form and given expression in a content. Content is accidental, substance [or import] essential, and form is the mediating element. The form must be appropriate to the content; so there is no opposition between the cultivation of form and the cultivation of content; it is rather that these two represent one extreme, and the cultivation of substance [or import] represents the other." pp. 165-166. According to Tillich, a cultural formation in which form predominates over substance is autonomous, while one in which import predominates over form is heteronomous. Form in synergistic balance with import is theonomous. Theonomous cultural forms (e.g. a poetics of Jesus) are in the nature of the case explicitly open to and disclosive of the unconditioned depth of ultimate meaning. The revelation of a predominant import consists in the fact that the form becomes more and more inadequate to the import. The import in its overflowing abundance shatters the form meant to contain it. For Tillich, this overflowing and shattering of form by import is itself the pre-eminent form of religiously charged cultural products. My use of form, content, and import throughout this thesis are in keeping with Tillich's definitions and Tillich's understanding of form in synergistic balance with import as theonomous is central to what I term 'a poetics of Jesus'. See Paul Tillich, "On the Idea of a Theology of Culture," in What is Religion? Trans. James L. Adams (New York: Harper and Row, 1969) pp. 165ff, "The Nature of Religious Language" in Theology of Culture, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959) pp. 53ff, and "The Spiritual Presence and the Ambiguities of Culture" in Sytematic Theology 3: Life and the Spirit/ History and the Kingdom of God. (London: SCM Press, 1997) pp. 245 – 262.
 Nicene Creed circa CE 325, in Readings in Christian Thought- 2nd ed. Hugh T. Kerr ed. (Nashville: Abington Press, 1993) p. 76.
 Hugh Kerr, Readings in Christian Thought- 2nd ed. (Nashville: Abington Press, 1993) p. 75.
 Walter Ong makes the distinction in the way in which the very content of information shifts its meaning as it inhabits a different medium since different senses are utilised to make 'sense' of the information received. What Ong terms as a "sensorium" is the constructed form that communication takes in order to gain access to the subject via given senses. As he notes, the very potency of religion and the message it is trying to convey becomes lost as it moves into a purely literary form since it then becomes delimited by the manifold meanings of language. See Walter Ong, The Presence of the Word (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967) and Robert Detweiler and David Jasper, eds. Religion and Literature (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000) pp. 36-38.
 Gregory W. Dawes, ed. The Historical Jesus Quest: A Foundational Anthology (Leiden: Deo Publishing, 1999) p. 1.
 Benedictus Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, trans. Samuel Shirley (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1989) p. 140.
 Hermann Samuel Reimarus, Fragments of the Wolfenbüttel Unknown in Reimarus: Fragments, ed. Charles H. Talbert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1970) Part I, section 9, p. 75.
 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, "On the Proof of the Spirit and Power" in Lessing's Theological Writings, trans. Henry Chadwick (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1956) p. 55.
 In the early 20th century Karl Barth would later remark that "the Lessing question" regarding this "ugly, broad ditch" was within a much larger context of what Barth termed "the problem of distance" which is the question of the "real" distance that humankind is in relation to God (citing Luke 5:8). For Barth, Christ is the first truly recognisable manifestation of both the problem of this distance and its ultimate resolution. In short, Barth takes Lessing's dilemma beyond the philosophical boundaries and places it into what Barth sees as the larger context, that of the salvific. See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1969) part , pp. 287ff.
 J. G. Fichte, The Way Toward the Blessed Life, or, The Doctrine of Religion – 1806 trans. W. Smith (London: Chapman, 1849) p. 107.
 Schelling, "On the Study of Theology", in On University Studies, trans. E.S. Morgan (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1966) p. 94.
 Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics Vol. 2 trans. Darrell Guder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1983) p. 3.
 Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, trans. T.M. Greene (New York: Harper & Row, 1960) pp. 54ff. This use of Kant's correlation of the 'Son of God' with the "ideal" is manifested in Herder and in a more 'emphatic' way in Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, trans. H.R. Mackintosh and J.S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1928) pp. 377ff.
 G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, vol. 3, trans. E.S. Haldane (New York: Humanities Press, 1968) pp. 72ff.
 Michael Edwards, Toward a Christian Poetics (London: Macmilian, 1984). In his address to the conference on Christianity and Literature at Macquarrie University, 5-8 July 1999 in Sydney, Australia entitled "Can We Speak of a Christian Poetics?", David Jasper cited Edward's work as "in Pascal's phrase, un monstre incompréhensible – a monster that passes all understanding… because it remains so deeply embedded within the established traditions of Christianity and its theology, his reading of literature exercised only in terms of Christianity, failing to make the radical move which acknowledges the true poet who overturns language which sustains such theology, moving on the boundaries of a silence which, like Augustine, opens our ears and eyes to the profound dichotomy between nature and grace" "Can We Speak of a Christian Poetics?" Literature and Religion – The Korean Society of Literature and Religion. (Vol. 5, No. 1 Summer 2000) pp. 139, 140.
 N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg, The Meaning of Jesus – Two Visions (London: SPCK, 1999) p. x.
 Attempts by New Testament scholars to figure the Christ has also seen attempts at fictional accounts with such recent works as Gerard Sloyan's Jesus in Focus and Gerd Theissen's The Shadow of the Galilean. While these seek to project a re-figured Christ, these fall back onto poetics that limits and is primarily dependent upon historical inquiry.
 Salman Rushdie, "Is Nothing Sacred?" – Herbert Read Memorial Lecture in Granta 31, Spring 1990 pp. 102, 103.
 Thomas J. J. Altizer, The Contemporary Jesus (New York: State University of New York Press, 1997) pp. xiv, xv, xxiii.
 ibid., p. xxv.
 A recommended supplement to reading Derrida's article is Lee Morrissey's essay entitled "Derrida, Algeria, and "Structure, Sign, and Play" in Postmodern Culture Volume 9, Issue 2. Morrissey situates much of Derrida's reflections in "Structure, Sign, and Play" within Derrida's own sense of displacement as a Jew in Algeria.
 Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" in Writing and Difference (London: Routledge Press, 1978) pp. 278ff.
 Jean Hyppolite, Logic & Existence (New York: State University of New York Press, 1997).
 Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato, eds. The Structuralist Controversy: The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972) pp. 265ff. Lee Morrissey makes interesting comparisons between the questions raised by Derrida in "Structure, Sign, and Play" and the political undertones of the essay. See Lee Morrissey, "Derrida, Algeria, and "Structure, Sign, and Play" Postmodern Culture Volume 9, Issue 2.
 Jacques Derrida, ibid., p. 279.
 I am using the notion of the Church collective [Church] as comparable to Tracy's use of the individual christian.
 David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination (London: SCM Press, 1981) p. 48.
 David Tracy, ibid.
 In his most recent book, Cities of God, Graham Ward states that "the logic of Christ as Logos is the logic of différance – the deferral of identity and the non-identical repetition which institutes and perpetuates alterity: this is not that, or, more accurately, this is not only that." Graham Ward, Cities of God (London: Routledge, 2000) p. 110.
 Jacques Derrida, op. cit., p. 278
 ibid., p. 280.
 ibid., p. 278.
 ibid., p. 279.
 ibid., p. 280.
 ibid., p. 279.
 Jacques Derrida, "Violence and Metaphysics" in Writing and Difference (London: Routledge Press, 1978) p. 109.
 Jacques Derrida, ibid., p. 129.
 Jacques Derrida, "Sign, Structure, and Play", ibid., p. 280.
 Macksey and Donato, ibid., p. 278.
 Hal Foster, The Return of the Real (Boston: MIT Press, 1996) p. 146. Foster maintains that this idea of trauma is central to critical theory after postmodernity: "Across artistic, theoretical, and popular cultures (in Soho, at Yale, on Oprah) there is a tendency to redefine experience, individual and historical, in terms of trauma… Here is indeed a traumatic subject, and it has absolute authority, for one cannot challenge the trauma of another: one can only believe it, even identify with it, or not." p. 168.
 Thomas J. J. Altizer, op. cit., p. 17.
 Jacques Derrida, " 'This Strange Institution Called Literature': An Interview with Jacques Derrida". Acts of Literature/Jacques Derrida. ed. Derek Attridge. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby. (New York: Routledge, 1992) p. 34.
 George Eliot, The George Eliot Letters ed. George S. Haight (London: Oxford University Press, 1954-1956) vol. 7, p. 230.
 Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign, and Play", ibid., p. 289.
 Jacques Derrida, "'This Strange Institution Called Literature", ibid., pp. 33ff.
 ibid. p. 36.
 Günther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth trans. I. McLuskey, F. McLuskey, and J.M. Robinson (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960) p. 13.
 Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. (London: A & C Black, 1954/1906) p. 401.
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