Holy Saturday

Our first time through the story, we despair:
All you came to do and be and save,
All love and peace and hope lies with you there,
Cold and dead and buried in the grave.
Our next time through, the light of Sunday’s sun
Reaches back into the darkness passed,
Expelling Friday’s shadows. So we run
Headlong into Easter all too fast.
We cannot hear the story twice the same
Could both be true, though locked in contradiction?
Could each narration speak a single name?
The Risen Lord; the man of crucifixion.
We find you on this day between the days:
The man exalted; God within the grave.

Holy Saturday 2014
Inspired by the work of Alan Lewis

Note: If you want to read some truly beautiful and deeply profound poetry, I cannot recommend the work of Malcolm Guite highly enough. He frequently posts his poetry on his blog. I found his sonnet sequence on the Stations of the Cross especially moving. His book, Sounding the Seasons, is a gem in my library.

Continuing my lenten blogging project, I now turn to Robert Jenson. For me, Jenson ranks among those theologians whose writings never fail to capture my attention, the sort whom I will read on any subject—whether or not I am particularly interested—just to see what he has to say on it. I should also say that probably no other writer produces in me such strong feelings of simultaneous agreement and doubt, inviting endorsement while demanding critique. For the present, I will try to leave both endorsement and criticism aside (although comments in either direction are welcome!), restricting myself to description and paraphrase.

The doctrine of God, for Jenson, begins with the divine identity, specifically the God identified by the biblical narrative. Throughout both testaments, God is identified by certain key events in time. Centrally, for Jenson, “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having before raised Israel from Egypt” (Systematic Theology, 1:63 [hereafter: ST]). This way of identifying God more or less corresponds with Jenson’s summary of the gospel message: that the God of Israel has raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Thus, for Jenson, God’s identification by the events narrated in the biblical text is inextricably tied up with the content of the gospel itself.

Though this may seem like an innocuous and perhaps unremarkable observation, Jenson goes further, making a conceptual move “from the biblical God’s self-identification by events in time to his identification with those events” (ST 1:59). In other words, God is in himself who he is for us in history. Since historical events are the only means by which God has revealed himself, if God’s inner-being in eternity differs in content from God’s being-for-us in time, then we could never know God truly. “The revealing events would be our clues to God, but would not be God” (ST 1:59). And any concept of revelation as a divine pointer that is ultimately void of divine presence is what the Bible calls idolatry (ST 1:60).

Jenson thus operates with something very much like Rahner’s rule—that the immanent trinity is the economic trinity and vice versa—but with a particular emphasis on the way in which God is identified by narrative—not to mention an unflinching willingness to follow this rule to its logical conclusion. In Jenson’s view, “the doctrine of the Trinity is but a conceptually developed and sustained insistence that God himself is identified by and with the particular plotted sequence of events that make the narrative of Israel and her Christ” (ST 1:60). And he does not shy away from the implications of this statement. The eternal being of God is determined by the contingent history of God with God’s people, and specifically the history of Jesus Christ. This determination is, to be sure, God’s own self-determination to be the God he is. Yet if this eternal decision is a decision for a history with human beings, that is, to constitute his identity in relation to historical human creatures, then we cannot construe historical contingency as alien to the eternal being of God. When God makes promises on the twin bases of his past deeds (“I am the one who…”) and his revealed name (“I am the Lord”), God “explicitly puts his self-identity at narrative risk” (ST 1:65). God is in himself who he is to us in human history, not merely by reflecting his eternal being into history, but actually by allowing his actions in history to determine who he eternally is.

A Jensonian theology of Holy Saturday would thus require careful thought about how the historical event of Jesus Christ lying dead in the tomb identifies the biblical God—not just as an example of his character, but as his own historical and contingent basis of establishing his eternal identity. As Jenson says,

The crisis of the total biblical narrative is the Crucifixion. As the cry of dereliction laments, the one called “Father” here hands the one called “Son” over to oppositional and deadly creatures. Therewith it becomes problematic that anything specified by listing “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” can be one God and not rather a mutually betraying pantheon. If the phrase can still be the name of one self-identical personal reality, his identity must be constituted precisely in the integration of this abandonment. The God of crucifixion and resurrection is one with himself in a moment of supreme dramatic self-transcendence or not at all. (ST 1:65)

Put briefly, “the gospel does not tell of work done by a God antecedently and otherwise determined, but itself determines who and what God is” (ST 1:165). To put it another way, God does not merely demonstrate who he is in history; he makes himself who he is.

For Jenson, there is no story behind the crucifixion that is somehow more “real” than the event itself. It does not conceal an invisible transaction between God and the devil or Father and Son, nor is it a historical mask worn over a mythic event. The crucifixion is “an event in God’s triune life” (ST 1:189), and it is so precisely as a human and historical event. Specifically, it is the event wherein God determines and establishes his relationship to fallen creatures, and as such determines and establishes fallen creatures’ relationship to him. It is important to note that Jenson refuses to view the cross apart from the resurrection. Consider the following:

The Crucifixion put it up to the Father: Would he stand to this alleged Son? To this candidate to be his own self-identifying Word? Would he be a God who, for example, hosts publicans and sinners, who justifies the ungodly? The Resurrection was the Father’s Yes. We may say: the Resurrection settled that the Crucifixion’s sort of God is indeed the one God; the Crucifixion settled what sort of God it is who establishes his deity by the Resurrection. (ST 1:189)

When God raises Jesus from the dead, he is saying of this crucified man, “Yes, that is who I am.” The three-day story of crucifixion, grave, and resurrection narrates the central drama in which God becomes who he eternally is. We might therefore say instead that in the act of raising Jesus from the dead, God says, “I will be who I will be, and that is who I will be.” That God says this of the crucified one must be cause for careful reflection; that God says this by means of resurrection must be cause for great rejoicing.

I realize I’ve taken a rather lengthy hiatus from blogging, but with my seminary studies some months behind me, with no professors or looming deadlines to fear, with the stress of school and the shock of completion now quaint memories, I just may be ready to take it up again. Or maybe I’m just pining for evenings spent with friends over white Russians and German theologians. In either case, I thought Lent would be an appropriate season to devote some time to theological reading and writing, to reflect specifically on a very lenten theme: God in the grave.

Alan Lewis, in his stellar book, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday, takes up these reflections with a narrative reading of the three-day story of cross, grave, and resurrection. The day between the days, Holy Saturday, the day of the grave, is mostly overlooked, glanced over in the rush toward Easter. Yet this is the day in which Lewis situates himself. As the boundary between the cross and resurrection, Holy Saturday is an ideal vantage point to understand both.

When we hear the story for the first time, Saturday is not the “day between the days.” It is the day after the last day, the first day after the catastrophic failure of the cross, the beginning of a life whose meaning has been lost in the grave with Jesus. Whoever we though Jesus was, we cannot now deny that he is the Crucified One, numbered with the worst of sinners:

What do we see if we make the effort and muster the courage to examine the cross of Jesus Christ from the second-day frontier, looking back without knowledge of the future? The sight is melancholy, terminal, disastrous. Yesterday a man suffered hellishly and died; was buried; and is now perhaps in hell. That makes today a day of godlessness and putrefaction. What are we to make of his death after all he did and said and was in life? (43)

Hearing the story for the first time forces us to pause at the cross, to weep at the graveside of the dead and buried Jesus with no hope of the pain being miraculously shattered the day after.

Easter heralds indescribable joy for those who were stuck in the story the first time around.  It overturns the verdict of the cross, vindicating the one who appeared as nothing but a common criminal or a failed revolutionary the day before. Our “No!” to the one God sent has been overwhelmed by God’s ultimate “Yes!” to him. The Crucified One is also the Risen One.

Returning to the story the second time around, we cannot disarm ourselves of foreknowledge. Try as we might, the drama will not unfold afresh, and we cannot quite proceed as if we don’t know what will follow. Yet far from blunting the vexation of Holy Saturday, the knowledge of Easter intensifies it. Now we mourn at the grave of the Crucified One whom we know to identify as the Risen One, yet whose upcoming resurrection does not negate his current status as dead and buried. Even if Jesus will be risen as Lord and saviour, nevertheless that same Lord and saviour now lies behind the stone that has not yet been rolled away. If Jesus was one with his Father, was his Father one with him in the grave?

Lewis, with his narratival pause at Holy Saturday, does not shy away from the nearly unthinkable thought: “in the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth between his crucifying and his raising, God lay dead” (255).

Precisely how—if at all—this scandalous idea might be thinkable is something that I will take up in later posts. (Lewis himself draws heavily on the work of Barth, Moltmann, and Jüngel.) However, for the time being it is worthwhile to pause on the day after the cross, to reflect on what it might mean if we dare to think along these lines. And Lent is an especially good time for this.

Anna and SimeonI am late to the game, but Joel Willitts has been posting Advent reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

So Was Fulfilled


At One with the Suffering and Joy of His People

The Message of Advent…Repentance

In the Face of the Manger

My own reflection on this season came as I discovered that indeed Advent has historically functioned as a season of self-reflection and repentance. Where one gives themselves to restraint, self-control, and seeking the holiness of God. It is preparatory. Our modern participation in this season has tended towards excess, self-pleasure, parties, and shopping.

The Lord has continued to challenge me that I would live in a manner ready for his soon coming. This is a call to holiness, self-control, and indeed, a life yielded to the Holy Spirit. After all, it was those saints of old (Simeon and Anna in Luke 2) who, led by the Spirit, were prepared in holiness to see the first coming of our Lord. They were righteous. They were patient. They were continually given to the work of the Lord. They were endowed by the Spirit. May it be so for us.


Out of Ur posted a hilarious spin on the Chuck Norris craze (or should that be a hilarious round-house kick???) in relation to the ever prolific writing pastor-theologian N. T. Wright (thanks for pointing me to this Marc).

Here are a few of the highlights:

For too long, Chuck Norris has been the benchmark for superhuman acts of power and justice. We’re setting that right.

From Wright fans John Raines, Kevin Emmert, Drew Dyck, and Paul Pastor comes this list of adoration for everyone’s favorite bishop-scholar-warrior-guru.

You call it idolatry. We call it reality. POW!

Keep kicking, Tommy-gun!

1. N. T. Wright doesn’t parse nouns. They decline themselves before him.

2. When James Dunn came up with the New Perspective, it was already old to N. T. Wright.

(for the rest of the twelve they came up with see HERE)

And here are a few of my own:

Just for fun what would you add?


In association with the Theologischer Verlag Zürich (TVZ) and Princeton Theological Seminary, Alexander Street Press is pleased to announce The Digital Karl Barth Library. This online collection will support a new generation of research into the works of one of the twentieth century’s most influential theologians.


The collection features the entire corpus of Barth’s Gesamtausgabe. Published under the TVZ imprint, this definitive edition of Barth’s works in German currently comprises 42 volumes of theological writings, lectures, letters, sermons, and interviews. As additional print volumes of the Gesamtausgabe become available, they will be added to Alexander Street’s The Digital Karl Barth Library. Also included is Barth’s magnum opus, the fourteen-volume Kirchliche Dogmatik, both in the original language and with the definitive English translation. Translations of numerous other important works by Barth are also included.

The combination of comprehensive German-language content and scholarly English translations of major works—all available in a coherent, easy-to-access online collection—make The Digital Karl Barth Library an unparalleled resource for students and scholars studying the life and thought of this modern-day “church father.”


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Find all references to suffering and tribulation in Barth’s sermons.
In Barth’s exegetical writings, identify words that occur most frequently in close proximity with the keyword λογος (logos).
Locate instances where Barth mentions Hitler in his letters.
Searching all Barth’s works, find all citations of Romans, chapter one.


The Digital Karl Barth Library is available on the Web, either by annual subscription or through a one-time purchase of perpetual rights. For pricing, trial requests, and other information, contact sales@alexanderstreet.com or download the PDF brochure for more information.

“When I was at seminary back in the early 1970s, my tutor told me firmly one day that I would have to choose between being an academic and being a pastor. I decided, sitting there in his office, that I was not going to make that choice… That has resulted in a lifetime of shifting from one foot to the other, as it were, in a world for which for whatever reason — and this is odd in the history of the church…theologians of the past have mostly been pastors — think of Augustine or Luther or whoever — they were pastors, they were preachers, they were teachers, they worked with people, they prayed with people, they didn’t sit in a study and do a cerebral thing away from that, and I fail to see why we should collude with this split world of post-Enlightenment ‘either the brain or the heart’…”

N.T. Wright, here.

If only Barth had finished his Church Dogmatics we would actually have this developing pneumatology.

συνεσταύρωμαι: living the crucified life

From Frank Macchia’s FB page:

A cautious but affirming response to Pentecostalism:

Barth“One could never have enough of Pentecost. This has to do with the Holy Spirit. For this reason, a little Pentecostalism — also again as salt of the earth (cf. Matt. 5:13)– cannot hurt any of us… It is quite necessary that someone draw attention to the fact that we all need the Holy Spirit. When one does that, and then something from Pentecost becomes visible again, how can we say something against it? There is nothing that can be said against it.”

– Karl Barth

(Busch, ed., Gasamtausgabe, Gesprache 1964-68, 430-32)

Someone responded:

A Barthian scholar and friend noted to me that Barth always left room for the surprising work of God, but did so only ‘out of the corner of his eye.’ Maybe that’s what he meant by ‘a little Pentecostalism.’

To which Macchia replied:


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A welcome volume on the development of Bonhoeffer’s theology and ethics with an eye toward the interrelations with Karl Barth. This will add to the glaring lacuna of Barth and Bonhoeffer’s dialectical relationship.

For Christ and His Kingdom

Michael P. DeJonge, Bonhoeffer’s Theological Formation: Berlin, Barth, & Protestant Theology. Oxford UP, 2012. vii–158 pp.

Oxford UP | Amazon9780199639786

There is clearly  no shortage of writings on Bonhoeffer and his thinking. Another volume of the 16-volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works was just released a few weeks ago. In 2012 Bonhoeffer was the focus of the Wheaton Theology Conference (video can be found here; published essays can be found here), and a basic search on Amazon reveals a growing number of monographs, collection of essays, a new forthcoming reader and even a new biography. In contrast, books on the relationship between Bonhoeffer and Barth have been limited. One of the few is Pangritz’s Karl Barth in der Theologie Deitrich Bonhoeffers: eine notwendige Klarstellung (ALektor Verlag, 1989), later translated into English in an expanded and revised edition as Karl Barth in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Eerdmans, 2000).

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Bonhoeffer the AssassinThere is newly published volume by Baker Academic that is worth checking out for those interested in the theology and life of Bonhoeffer and particularly how he steered the waters of his pacifist declarations (found most clearly in his 1937 Discipleship) and his involvement with the Abwehr‘s conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.

Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel’s contribution to Bonhoeffer studies looks to be promising: Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking (Baker Academic 2013). HERE  is the news release and HERE is a brief excerpt.

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