Apocalyptic is all the rage these days. More precisely, an uptick in efforts to recover the Apostle Paul’s “militant” soteriology has roused old debates concerning the merits of a Käsemannian dictum, namely that apocalyptic is the mother of all Christian theology.
Naturally, Pauline apocalyptic has been a munificent partner with dogmatic theology, a reality highlighted by the influence of J. Louis Martyn, whose commentary on Galatians had such a monumental effect on the theological world that Römerbrief comparisons no longer sound overly romantic. What might seem unnatural, however, is the reverberation of Pauline apocalyptic throughout certain corners of Continental philosophy. What hath Tarsus to do with France, Italy, and Slovenia? Well, that’s a question for Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, and Slavoj Žižek, each having produced works that transpose the Apostle’s categories into a new key.
There’s yet another road less traveled among proponents of this project. Fellow pilgrims will traverse the same path in due time, but not until the thickets are removed from the winding trail leading to a messianic political theology that’s unreservedly apocalyptic and unapologetically Anabaptist. P. Travis Kroeker is the right pioneer for the task. Indeed, Messianic Political Theology and Diaspora Ethics is the culmination of a career in trailblazing, a constructive theological achievement that throws into stark relief the inner ratio of Kroeker’s entire corpus. This collection of essays demonstrates an impressive adeptness at engaging apocalyptic across a nexus of overlapping concerns, including but not limited to the dogmatic, philosophical, and radically reformed impulses mentioned above.
The subtitle—“Essays in Exile”—evinces a provocative thesis that becomes explicit in the first few pages, namely that Christian theology and discipleship should be practiced with a posture of dispossession. The cross is the symbolic catalyst for such an insight, for the mystical body of Christ finds its existence at the apocalyptic juncture where two ages collide at the site of crucifixion. If the church is rooted in this space, as Kroeker believes it is, then it must conceive of itself in diasporic terms. Each chapter in Kroeker’s monograph wrestles with the political implications of this claim, and the contributors of this symposium have provided a rich set of essays that manage to provoke and interrogate while still embodying a form of scholarship that is “endlessly kenotic and dispossessive rather than acquisitive and accumulative” (29). May their tribe increase.
Chris Huebner begins this symposium with an insightful reflection on the book’s mode of presentation, suggesting that its unsystematic form also constitutes exilic content. Taken as a whole, the chapters perform the book’s thesis by presenting essays that are literally displaced. Taken individually, the chapters present apocalyptic themes that subvert conventional apocalyptic images which are, in Huebner’s estimation, predisposed to eschewing patience and dispossession (note the phrase “militant soteriology” above).
While Huebner sees Kroeker troubling the waters of apocalyptic theology, Kristen Deede Johnson sees the same with regard to the theme of exile. Placing Kroeker in conversation with Rod Dreher, whose Benedict Option articulates its own theology of exile, Johnson explores the similarities and differences between their liturgical and pedagogical sensibilities. Her astute distinction between Dreher’s seasonal vs. Kroeker’s normative understanding of exile is worth the price of admission, for it clarifies the stakes involved for both parties. Finally, despite her sympathetic take on Kroeker’s exilic project, Johnson—and here we see glimpses of her Torrancean pedigree—pushes his account of imitation further in the direction of participation.
As one might expect from a panel comprised mostly of Anabaptists, the issue of power comes to the fore with vigor. Peter Iver Kaufman is not an Anabaptist, but his expansive range of intellectual proficiency makes him a suitable conversation partner for P. Travis Kroeker, and he uses Agamben to problematize the latter’s notion of a “messianic counter-sovereignty.” Maybe, just maybe, we should dispense with the logic of sovereignty altogether. Malinda Berry offers a paradigmatic alternative to Kroeker’s broadly Yoderian messianism, giving a nod to Rosemary Radford Ruether while asking the uncomfortable but necessary question concerning the enabling effect Yoder’s “messianism” had on his sexual ethics. Samuel Adams concludes the symposium by cautioning against the ecclesiocentrism that became popular after the publication of Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. Over against theologies that reify or centralize the church’s existence, apocalyptic reminds us that our being is located outside ourselves. Whatever implications this has for political theology, the answers will likely be provisional and, dare I say, dispossessive. Kroeker, I suspect, would have it no other way.