Sunday, May 28, 2006

Identity, Death and Meaning

If the Church is an Icon of the future world, then all the Church does, including its theology, is saying something about our future hope. This means that what God offers us in this world could be described as a fore-taste of what will be reality in its fullness after death. When the Church or theology does not give a reflection of the eschatological Kingdom of God it is no longer (or at least at that moment) church, and the theology is bad.

In an earlier post I mentioned three existential questions or problems that I consider central: Identity, Death and Meaning. By existential I mean something that is a part of existence as such, they are not problems that are “contextual”, in the sense that they are related to a particular culture. But they will obviously take on different characteristics depending on the particular situation one is living in. In my up-coming posts I will explore these three existentials thoroughly and ask how they will function in a theology of decline. Today I will say something general about the three of them.

I initially planned to say that these are not related to the Holy Trinity in any particular way. Then it occurred to me that maybe they are. Identity is certainly something that is closely related to being created, Death is very much something that has to do with Christ, and I think meaning is a good perspective on the Spirit. But since I think it may be possible to argue for the inclusion of other existentials than the three I have chosen, this cannot be considered a part of the doctrine of the Trinity, but rather a kind of entry point to the mystery of the triune God.

I think it is possible to argue that Christinity, as Tillich would say, gives answers to these three questions contained in existence. But the dedicated Tillich reader will notice that these are not the same existentials that Tillich discuss: instead of guilt in his system I talk of identity. The reason for this is that I do not want to equate sin with guilt, as has happened especially in German theology. Sin is the central problem for the question of Identity, just as Meaninglessness is the problem for the question of Meaning and fear is the problem for the question of death. But guilt is not only experienced because of a deformed identity, but rather it is a fundamental feature of the human existence that lack in all these three categories is experienced as guilt.

Also, these three questions do not exist separately from each other (perichoresis!). They all form aspects of the other two problems. I will discuss this feature in my coming posts.


Looney said...

Hello Patrik,

Today, one of our fundamentalist seminary students gave an existential sermon. He explained how the three existential concepts related to the Trinity and God's creation of man - without using the word existential. He finished up with a short artsy flick on identity. The three concepts were, however a little different from yours: Uniqueness, Connectedness, Empowerment.

Looney's mind is finally blown. Is existentialism taking over fundamentalism? Or is fundamentalism taking over existentialism? Can we find the number 666 in existential fundamentalism?

Meanwhile, I have a more pressing problem: My job is to evaluate and provide feedback for sermons. Our usual sermons are on things like not engaging in road rage when you are driving a vehicle with a "Jesus is Lord" bumper sticker. Setting objective measures of the quality of a sermon is fairly easy. (i.e. did he cover the 'turn the other bumper' part.)

How do you set objective criteria for evaluating an existential sermon? Isn't that like rating the works of Escher according to their adherence to the laws of physics? It doesn't seem right. Then there are no doctrinal errors that I can sink my fangs into. Is there a proper way to existentially evaluate existential works?

When I was young, the classic annoyance was a sermon filled with lots of flowery rhetoric but devoid of content. Here, I can't deny the content, but it is difficult to pin down what the content exactly was.

In spite of my silliness, I am truly baffled.

Patrik said...

To me that sound's like a pretty good take on the Trinity. I'd say be gentle with him, he is propably meaning well! :)

Looney said...

Thanks. I will follow your suggestion.

Looney said...

Hello Patrik,

I return bruised and battered as my seminary friend took great offense at having the word "existential" applied to his sermon. The name Tillich brought a response that he was another prodigal son - who never abandoned the trough. Sigh. Building bridges is hard to do.

I am still greatly puzzled at the similarity between what he preached and what you are blogging. It doesn't seem right to accept that it was merely the chance product of millions of years of Darwinian evolution of theological concepts.