Symposium Introduction

Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz’s book The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2022) is one of the latest publications by members of the Yale Divinity School’s Center for Faith and Culture. Focusing on two key biblical writings, namely Exodus and the Gospel of John, this book offers a strong case for interpreting the overall aim and shape of God’s action as making a dwelling among creation. The two authors make the case for “home” as a particularly rich and helpful theme (better, they argue, than “temple” or “kingdom”) and as a crucial red thread within the Bible. To them, it is not just “a” central biblical theme, but probably “the” central one, even though this thesis has—to their (and perhaps our) surprise—almost never been stated or explored in the course of two millennia of Christian theology.

After a “Prelude” and an “Overture” in which the stark ambiguity of “home,” as places of growth, joy and love, but also as places of abuse, disjunction and suffering, is taken seriously, and in which the authors acknowledge their debts to other scholars, past and present, the book comprises four parts (most parts comprising two chapters): “Exodus” (part 1), “The Word of Life” (part 2, on John’s gospel), “The Spirit of Life” (part 3, also on John), and, finally, “The Fullness of Life” (part 4, with special reference to the final chapters in the book of Revelation).

Part 1 centers on the central story in the Hebrew Bible, i.e. how God liberates the children of Israel from the “house of slavery.” The Scriptures address the inevitability of dysoikic (17) reality head-on. The event of liberation is not self-enclosed: liberation is given for the sake of life, and not just “any” life, but life as part of God’s household. Here the theme of the tabernacle becomes significant as the tangible sign of God’s presence “in all the travels of the Israelites” (68, quoting Exod 40:36).

Part 2 turns to the “new exodus” (74) signaled by the dwelling of God in human flesh: God came to dwell into and among “his own” (ta idia; John 1:11). The two authors are mindful of the fact that, both in the book of Exodus and in the fourth gospel, “presence” does not go without “absence” (75). They then ponder the continuities and discontinuities between John’s gospel and the book of Exodus: notably, whereas the Hebrew Scriptures envision a dwelling of God among God’s people, the gospel writer speaks of God dwelling in the disciples of the incarnate Word (135).

The eschatological promise and its fulfilment, when our dysoikic realities begin to be and will be wholly healed and transformed into the new world in which God dwells, are the themes of Part 3. The telos of God’s ways is not a flight away from the world, but its transformation. The judgment of Babylon, for the sake of liberation from sin and death, is a key component of the apocalyptic vision of the New Jerusalem in the last book of the Bible. The book of Revelation urges us to look at the final “this-worldly eschatological culmination” (190).  All in all, The Home of God is a condensed, compelling theological analysis and account of a key biblical theme. It offers a “biblically articulated theology of life” (28) in the midst of ambiguity and sin, with an eye toward the full realization of God’s intent.

As such, this book deserves a broad critical engagement in order to discuss its main theses, its usage and interpretation of Scripture, its reformulation and reframing of sin (hamartiology as dysoikology, as it were) and liberation. Hence the panel of scholars gathered here to critically appraise Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz’s monograph. In this symposium, no less than seven contributors delve into The Home of God in order to identify and ponder the strengths of the work as well as its weaker points.

In the symposium’s first essay, Keri Day notes the strength and indeed the boldness of the book, insofar as its authors do not merely suggest the theme of “home” as one helpful lens through which we may read the Scriptures, but rather as the best suited theme in order to interpret the canonical texts. Day then raises several other important questions, e.g. on the risks that might come with selecting the gospel of John, thereby leaving the synoptics aside, or on the place of “desire,” both divine and human, in a theological construal of God’s intent to make a home in the midst of creation.

The second essay, by Juliane Schüz, raises methodological questions related to “dogmatic storytelling,” in critical conversation with the subtitle of the book (“A Brief Story of Everything”). How does the narrative approach of the book relate to the classical dogmatic method that centers on established themes or loci? And what are some of the implications of the narrative approach for the treatment of themes such as faith, grace, and sin? Schüz wonders whether the two authors do not blur at times the distinction between divine and human agency.

Emmanuel Durand’s response also begins with a methodological question, on the not always clear underlying “anthropological register” which could facilitate the reception of such a book in today’s world, not just among committed Christians but more broadly. Close attention to Scripture is to be praised, in Christian theology, but the slight risk is then a greater gap with our contemporaries. While Durand expresses deep appreciation for the book, he wonders why the theme of the “city” is not explored in greater depth by the authors.

The fourth essay, by Beth Felker-Jones, applauds the authors for their emphasis on the “worldliness” of God’s project. This emphasis, in her view, “opens us to much needed possibilities for theological imagination and the embodiment thereof.” But, like Keri Day, she suspects the two authors go a bit further than necessary in prioritizing the “home” metaphors over other key biblical metaphors. Scripture overflows with metaphors, so why select one as “the” richest or most significant? And how would the theme of “home” look if other biblical books had been highlighted? A second question follows, on the theme of “home”: shouldn’t the book have paid more attention to the nitty-gritty of homes, including dish-washing, laundry, messy kids’ rooms, and so forth, also with an eye toward the historical roles of women in these homes? And what about the neighborhoods in which homes are built and in which people live, taking into account segregation and red lining practices?

In his essay, Hong Liang places the book in conversation with Jürgen Moltmann’s works (Moltmann, who is Hong Liang’s Doktorvater, is a key interlocutor for the two authors of the book, as they themselves make clear) before raising the question of the relation between the theme of “home” with the theme of “law,” both human and divine. This question is important insofar as it may help us reflect on the conflicts that occur between homes and within homes “as spaces of law.” For homes are not merely private, social, and material spaces: they are also legal spaces.

The sixth essay, by Chammah J. Kaunda, is an African, Pentecostal response articulated in light of the insights of a particular tradition known as Bemba theology (Zambia), which offers a rich cultural and theological interpretation of the notion of “home.” Kaunda invites us to ponder the kind of “homing” we are called to, and to imagine this as an everyday activity which is orientated toward “redeeming homes” in the face of injustice, violence and destruction, i.e. in the face of the “un-homing of homes.”

The final essay, by Brad East, raises several questions, after some words of praise for the boldness of the book, a boldness signaled by its subtitle. The first question concerns Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. East wonders whether the authors are too cautious when they wish to maintain Exodus’ “integrity of its own,” not just as a figurative anticipation of Christ. “Gentile Christian interpretation of Israel’s Scriptures is unavoidably and irreducibly ecclesial, spiritual, and christological,” he writes. The second question concerns the church, and the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, all marginal topics in the book. East wonders why this is so. Finally, he asks about political involvement: is the “household of God” supposed (or called) to take part in political life, where the “old aeon” is all too visible? If yes, how is it supposed to do this?

We are fortunate to have this book. We can thank Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz for their contribution to theological reflection. And we now are fortunate to have these seven essays, written by such insightful scholars. Enjoy!

Keri Day

Response

How God Makes Home

Questions on Sources, Signs, and Desire

The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything is an engaging constructive theology of how and why the story of God is God’s desire to make a home with Creation. This book challenges some assumptions associated with certain accounts of Christian theology. One major assumption is that the story of God is solely about divine action of redeeming humans from sin to be reconciled to God. Volf and McAnnally-Linz would say that this is part of the story. However, this action must be situated within the larger story of God, namely that God’s ultimate desire is to indwell Creation, not to just rule over it. God not only seeks to reconcile the world to Godself in the revelation of Jesus but also seeks the ultimate renewal of Creation as God’s home. As Volf and McAnnally-Linz assert, because the story of God is about God’s desire to make a home in the world, God desires to be not so much an “external” object of worship people act toward as much as a God humans can act with in the world to come. Their fascinating account of God’s homemaking in the world as the story of everything offers real possibilities in opening conversations about a radically immanent God who loves us and chooses to make God’s abode with us. In this response, I meditate on a few critical questions surrounding sources, signs and desire.

Before foregrounding my questions, I want to note a major strength of this text. The authors make a bold claim: the metaphor of home is not just one among many metaphors that interprets God’s intentions and actions toward Creation. Home is the metaphor that captures the purposes of God’s activity in the world. They qualify their usage of home as the best metaphor in the “Overture” of the book. As demonstrated in the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scriptures, God’s work of making the world into home for God and humans is not just one among many events but the event, the divine project (as seen through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus) that takes place within history and points beyond history. And they do note that the metaphor of home has risks as well. Home can invoke experiences of trauma, damage, and harm. However, despite deformations of home, it is a place where we nevertheless desire intimacy and belonging. I find this metaphor to be compelling. The authors nuance the social, political, economic, and theological meanings of home without acquiescing to unbridled pessimism and despair, ultimately directing us to an idea of home that is more than the sum of its harms. There is hope. 

Although in different ways, so many theological scholars are attempting to interrogate and imagine how we might be able to think about this world as a home where God’s love and justice can be found. I am thinking here about black liberationist and womanist theologies. The theologies of James Cone and Delores Williams, for example, might employ different metaphors (blackness and wilderness respectively) in interpreting the story of God in the world. Yet, both discourses would agree that the end or telos of God’s activity (liberation and/or quality of life, especially as seen through the gospels) is something like God making God’s home with Creation—a Creation now free to be with and for God toward the eschatological ends of love, liberation, justice, and peace. Yet, for black liberationist and womanist theologians, speaking about how God chooses homemaking is key: suffering and oppressed communities are the site of God’s revelation, character, and glory—the site of divine intention and activity. This point matters to such theologians as the project of God’s homemaking privileges attending to those who suffer and are marginalized. Addressing and correcting malformations and harm in community are central to how God makes home for Godself and others in the world. I think Volf and McAnnally-Linz agree on this matter. As a result, I do think that the authors’ nuanced usage of the theological metaphor of home invites many types of theological discourses to the table with various methods and approaches, especially discourses committed to asking how addressing material harms shape our imaginary of God’s intentions and activity. Now that I have said a word about one major strength of this text, I will foreground three questions that linger for me.

My first question is about sources. The authors use the Gospel of John as the major canonical source in explaining the story of God. Yet, what might be lost in foregrounding only one gospel (John) as the primary source in telling the story of God, more precisely the story of everything? For instance, in the Gospel of John, the parable-centric teacher of the Synoptic gospels almost disappears and is replaced by one who engages in extended philosophical dialogues with persons and heavy theological monologues about divine life. Taken at face value, this might simply be interpreted as a difference in style. But I think this also affects meaning when we speak about God’s revelation in Jesus and why this matters for the world (and even homemaking). Might one argue that we see a more open-ended, less Platonist epistemology with respect to God in the Synoptics? Might this matter to how we tell the story about God and “everything”?

I do think feminist eco-theologian Sallie Mcfague’s Metaphorical Theology, for instance, raises important epistemological questions regarding theological language and therefore theological meaning in telling any story about God. Parables are not simply stories; they also raise questions about how we imagine and talk about God. Parables hold epistemological significance. When we meet Jesus communicating through parables about the kingdom of God in the Synoptic gospels, we also hear God’s Word coming to us not simply as a philosophical system of ideas (i.e. the Trinity, Son as Logos, etc.) but as a poesis, revealing a surprising, unorthodox God who is illuminated and imagined through the creative potential of words, narrative, and metaphor (a point Amy Jill-Levine eloquently argues in her book, Parables of Jesus). In privileging the Gospel of John, could it be that Volf and McAnnally-Linz’s reading strategy for discerning Christian faith (and therefore who God is and what God does) may not make possible this more theologically expansive, creative, unanticipated way of talking about God because it often feels as if their interpretations about God’s story are overly wedded to certain doctrinal and ontological statements about God (that they deduce from the Gospel of John)? Might something be lost in this approach, and might something unanticipated be gained about the story of God from privileging another (or other) gospel(s)? To be clear, I am not arguing that John is not important to the question of God’s homemaking. It is. Instead, I am curious about what is lost when we depend upon one primary canonical source to do the work of telling the story.

In centralizing the Gospel of John to tell the story, my concern is that certain reading strategies on how we speak of God (and God’s home) may foreclose a more expansive imagining of God’s nature, activity, and intentions toward and with Creation. By choosing to privilege John without offering a robust case for what is lost with respect to the Synoptic gospels, the authors tell the story a certain way, a way that I would argue especially privileges certain doctrinal and ontological statements about God, which may foreclose speaking of God as One who is unorthodox and surprising, moving within and yet exceeding our own words and language about God—what I think we may more readily find in the Synoptic gospels’ narratives and parables. If we are talking about the story of everything (including homemaking as God’s ultimate end), it seems the question of how we make room for imagining an expansive God within and beyond our categories matters. Perhaps I am overstating this point, but I do invite the authors to discuss what impact and or even loss is present when privileging one canonical source (like John).

My referencing of the Gospel of John leads me to my next question. I was quite compelled by their discussion of Jesus’s signs in the Gospel of John. I think they are right: Jesus’s signs (such as turning water into wine, healings, etc.) are not mere symbols in the sense of simply using material things to communicate verities about eternal life (104). As they argue, Jesus’s signs in the material world demonstrate how we relate to each other and God. Material things are “God’s gifts and serve as nodal points of relationships” (106). Signs “elicit in recipients’ faith in Jesus, foster their awareness of being loved,” and enhance their experience of receiving and giving God’s extravagant love to others (106). Signs then are a foretaste of a new world and a new way of relating in God’s household. I find this account on the meaning of signs to be quite powerful. Yet, I want to raise a taken-for-granted assumption about healing as a sign. Theologians and ethicists who focus on disability studies remind us that healing in the scriptural text often operates with problematic assumptions about those who are differently abled. For instance, it is assumed in biblical texts that one who cannot see is not whole and must be healed (sighted) to be made whole. Some disability scholars would reject this ableist interpretation in the text—that people are not whole if they are differently abled (blind or deaf). Theological and religious scholars such as Nancy Eiesland and Thomas Reynolds remind us that there are different ways of being human and expose how faulty societal interpretations of those who are blind, deaf, and marked by other “abnormalities” legitimate an entire system of ableist oppression. If part of God’s homemaking is to transform the deformations and harms of this world so that this world might be God’s home (and our home), how might Volf and McAnnally-Linz engage these critiques around their discourse of signs, especially as it relates to healing?

A final question I have surrounds their discussion of life in God’s household and “love as obedience” being the foundational ethic in this household. I appreciate the tension that the authors present in using the term obedience. As they assert, love as obedience can be a proper way of speaking about love, as our human perception of the good is inadequate, compelling us to rely on God through the Spirit for such discernment. However, obedience invokes the master-slave relationship rather than the idea of flourishing within a household. Considering this tension, I wonder whether “love as desire” is most fitting? What I am struck by is that in John 15:15, Jesus states: “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” What is most compelling to me about this scripture is the restructuring of God’s household. Through friendship with God, everything is made known to us. The relationship between the Incarnate God (Jesus) and humans will not be hierarchically experienced. Rather, desire for each other will drive why we act toward each other in love, care and belonging. God’s desire for us and our desire for God sits at the center of the project of redemption and homemaking. At the center of salvation history is God seeking us out, to be with and for us. As friends mutually need each other to express love in all its manifold dimensions, so God needs us (as we need God) to love in all ways that reaffirm God’s desire to be with Creation. The story of everything is about a new age of friendship with God in which mutual desire is what makes home possible.

I do recognize that any account of a God who desires us and is affected by us may challenge certain doctrines such as the doctrine of divine self-sufficiency. God’s aseity means that God is sufficient to Godself, not dependent on anything external to Godself. But I must agree with feminist queer theologian Wendy Farley that at the center of God’s story is the presence of divine desire, a God affected by and yearning for communion with God’s Creation. Likewise, Farley wants to center our existential longing for the Divine. We do not first think our way to God. We feel and yearn our way to God. We try to know God through concepts and language, which are representative but do not directly correspond to God. So for Farley, we must learn how to inhabit our ideas about God in uncomfortable ways, in large part through desire. I do recognize that Farley’s constructive theology of the Incarnation (God as the Erotic Abyss) is not in line with how Volf and McAnnally-Linz might describe God. And my intention here is not to argue for Farley’s construction. Rather, I am compelled by the significance of centering desire as central to God’s economy of salvation and redemption (including its ethical import). When centering desire as constitutive of God’s very life, the task of faith is not the struggle for certainty or complete clarity when telling the story of God. The task of faith is about faithful desire for our Beloved, for God, which produces the practice of making home with God and others (even radical others). Christian faith is awakening to God’s desire for us and delighting in it. This delight draws us to reciprocate, transforming ourselves and our relationships, so that home is possible. 

I have only asked a few questions that matter to me. I know this book will sponsor more conversation and questions in the years to come. And hopefully, this text might invite people to think about and desire how they might participate in the historical and eschatological project of God’s homemaking.

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    Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

    Reply

    Reply to Keri Day

    Keri Day has written a characteristically generous and probing response to The Home of God. In reply, we would like to begin by underscoring a few points where we believe she has drawn out important facets of the project before engaging four of the more critical questions she has raised.

    A guiding conviction of our work has been the materiality of salvation (both redemption and eschatological consummation). God saves material creatures in their materiality. Centering the image of home has the benefit of emphasizing this materiality. Day underscores a significant aspect of this conviction: it matters how God goes about God’s homemaking work, and in fact that work “privileges attending to those who suffer and are marginalized.” We do, as Day suspects, agree wholeheartedly with this observation, and we hope that Day is right that the image of home is a welcoming one for a variety of theological discourses, including especially those that emphasize the conjunction of the imperative to address material harms and the shape of our theological imaginations. 

    Such a variety is the only fitting way for human speech that seeks to communicate truthfully about the God who ever exceeds us and our speech. Day warns against the search for “certainty or complete clarity” in theology. As much as any particular theologian might rightly strive to speak truthfully and precisely, transparency and fixity are chimeras. Theology can and should only ever be polyvocal. 

    Day levels one central methodological critique of The Home of God. Like other criticisms in this symposium, it concerns our use of Scripture. Day is concerned about our decision to focus on the Gospel of John at the expense of the Synoptics. In particular, she worries that this focus pushes us toward an understanding of God that is too ontologically confident and thus stultifying and insufficiently open to dynamism and surprise. 

    Theological engagement with Scripture has tended to cluster around two poles: commentaries on particular books of the Bible, on the one hand, and indiscriminate selection of passages for argumentative or interpretive use, on the other. We have tried something rather different, namely to follow a thread in the scriptures by focusing on three points where it is especially visible: Exodus, John, and Revelation. This is not a theological commentary on John of the sort that David Ford has recently completed, but we do in fact leave the Synoptics almost entirely to the side.1 The “story of everything” would indeed look rather different if it were rendered with Matthew, Mark, and/or Luke as the central sources or via an amalgamation of all four gospels or within a Pauline theological frame. The approach we have taken is quite evidently not the only one that can be taken. Moreover, it would seem that this is how it must be. 

    Stories, after all, have the habit of eluding fixed articulation. The “same” story can be rendered in any number of ways. So while there is a valid sense in which there is a Christian story of everything, in actual practice, there are as many Christian renderings of a story of everything as there are Christians. Moreover, the renderings of a Christian story of everything that Christians tell themselves and others are always partial. They arise from “fragments of faith,” are spoken and written in fragments, and never achieve totality.2 The fragmentariness of our storytelling is an ambiguous reality. Both the goodness of human finitude and the dislocation of human sin are bound up with it. It is, in any respect, the way things are. The fourfold gospel testimony received by the church suggests that we would do well not to kick against the goads and strive too hard for synthesis. 

    What, however, of the substance of Day’s critique: the claim that focusing on John alone yields a picture of God that is at once gravely distorted and overly confident in its own sufficiency? 

    John’s Jesus, it is true, does not speak in the parables so characteristic of the synoptics. And John’s Jesus does speak with an extraordinary confidence about who his Father is and what the Father is doing. (Whether that warrants theologians assuming a similar confidence in our own speech is an importantly different matter.) Even so, neither Jesus the Word incarnate nor the Father, nor the Spirit for that matter, is an unmysterious character in John. If our interpretations have foreclosed on the mysterious creativity of God, the blame, we think, lies elsewhere than in our focus on John. 

    With regard to theology, we are generally inclined to accept many of the “doctrinal and ontological statements about God” that the church has come to affirm, largely under the influence of John and Paul (with a hefty dose of Isaiah and Exodus thrown in). The way of reading Scripture that yields these ways of talking about God is far from the only possible—indeed, plausible—one. We work from the conviction merely that it is a faithful way of reading. To the extent that resulting theologies are hubristic or calcified or unimaginative, to that extent surely they mischaracterize the living God of Israel and of Jesus Christ. 

    Not unrelated to our focus on John is the close alignment of love and obedience in our account of the lives of Christ’s disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Day objects, partly on Johannine terms: “I do not call you servants any longer … but I have called you friends” (John 15:15). Bringing obedience and love together as we do, Day claims, inevitably invokes the master–slave relation, which is hardly a fitting register for a project seeking to articulate the flourishing of creatures in and as God’s home. 

    Day notes with appreciation the tension in our use of obedience: there is an appropriate sense of obedience within love given our inadequate perception of the good. We would further highlight this tension. It is right there in John: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (15:14). Given who we are (fallible, fallen) and who God is (dependable, holy), it seems to us that obedience is an inescapable of feature of our love of God here and now. Unlike humans, God has no particular interest of God’s own.3 Because God is self-sufficient, there is no divine self-interest. God’s interest, so to speak, is in and for the good of the creation. (This, we believe, is an important implication of the kind of understanding of God we suggested above in reply to Day’s critique.) When one human commands another and insists that “it’s for your own good,” there is always room (indeed, often more than room) for suspicion. But all God’s acts toward creatures, including commands, are for creatures’ good. This logic ought to push against all but the most attenuated applications of “love as obedience” to interhuman relationships (at least, those in which none of the humans in question is the Word of God made flesh). That said, it remains an open question whether theologians can put in place guardrails sufficient to protect against abusive ideologies of obedience of the sort that Day draws our attention to.

    We would also emphasize that, so far as we understand, obedience fades in importance with eschatological consummation, supplanted by the spontaneity of love characteristic of creatures fully indwelled by God. If this is the ultimate vision, however, isn’t Day right to hold up “love as desire” as a more fitting primary category? The difficulty is that desire is no less ambivalent a category than obedience. Some desire seeks communion; other desire seeks consumption. Witness, for example, the voracious desire of the “master” for domination. Once we make a distinction of this sort, however, we enter the terrain of normativity, and that means that with respect to God something like the categories of command and obedience will be on the table.

    One other characteristically Johannine theme—the works of Christ that John calls “signs”—leads Day to raise a question: what might we make of contemporary theological critiques of the category of “healing” as applied to such stories as the man at Beth-zatha (John 5) and the man born blind (John 9)? These are deep and murky waters, where wading can very quickly turn to being in over one’s head. Let us make four observations, three limited in focus to John’s gospel and all four meant mostly to further chart the territory to which Day has helpfully pointed. 

    First, this is a case where bringing in more discussion of the synoptic gospels would make the issue more, rather than less, pronounced. Healing or this sort is a relatively minor theme in John compared to the other three evangelists. The second and third observations can take their cue from how Jesus opens his interaction with the man at Beth-zatha: he asks, “Do you want to be made well?” On the one hand, Jesus asks about the man’s own desires. Jesus does not “heal” him by fiat, but because the man wants it. (The situation is muddier in John 9, but it does seem clear that the man receives Jesus’s action as a blessing.) Nor does Jesus make every person in Galilee and Judea who could not walk take up their mat. This facet of his works does not amount to the “eugenics” of God’s homemaking. On the other hand, our desires are not merely our own. They are inescapably socially formed. It could very well be the case that the man’s desire for healing is overwhelmingly the product of his society’s derogatory stance toward his body. The phrasing of the question—Do you want to be made well—already tips the scales. If well and unwell are the terms in question, it is rather hard to reject the former in favor of the latter. Finally, we have learned from Calli Micale to take a cautious stance toward efforts to recuperate positive evaluations of disability on the grounds that they tend to “trivialize the pain and frustration of living a disabled life” and “obsure material conditions and geopolitical violence that contribute to the creation and maintenance of disables subjects.”4

    Having said all this, and at the risk of kicking the can down the road, we hope to explore the complexity of the gospels’ healing narratives and some of the implications of the tension it elucidates in our planned work on the social and ethical implications of God’s homemaking. That we have had to appeal to future work twice in responding to Day is a testament to the way her reading has reached out beyond the text she has graciously read to explore its implications and lacuna in ways that call for and elicit more thought. She has gone some way farther down the road than we have to this point, and for that we are grateful.  


    1. Ford, The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021.

    2. Willie James Jennings, After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2020), 16–17, 32–34.

    3. Rowan Williams elaborates this point in connection with the conviction that God is creator of all that is. See Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2007). He sees this logic at work in Augustine’s famous denial that God’s love for creatures takes the form of “enjoyment” (Williams, “‘Good for Nothing’? Augustine on Creation,” Augustinian Studies 25 [1994]: 20).

    4. Calli Micale, “Crip Conversion: Narratives of Disability and Grace,” PhD dissertation (Yale University, 2023), 20.

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Response

A Transformation Narrative of an Indwelling Spirit

In a time of crisis, many people ask for a vision or a narrative to help them cope, understand, and guide their thinking and actions. When we look at our time, there are many crises in the world which lead to different levels of distress. The most relevant question then seems to be: What is our narrative for a time when faith, church, God, and the language of Christianity are often no longer understood as relevant? How can the good news of God’s love be articulated in our time?

Different times found different foci in their theological response to this question. In Luther’s time, justification by faith alone was lifting the yoke of religious fear. In a time of world wars, dialectical theology that proclaimed God in opposition to the misleading, even war-proclaiming culture of Christian nationalism gave freedom to faith, believing in God as the counterpart to and redeemer of this world.

In present times, it is quite brave to tell A Brief Story of Everything, since we tend to rather argue on specific theological problems instead of engaging with the whole. Volf and McAnnally-Linz decided to tell the Story of Everything as a story of homemaking: The Home of God. This is fascinating to read and easy to follow along. But this fine example of theologically and ethically engaged storytelling leaves me with a pressing question: How do we do theology and how do we tell our narrative? Since, as Barth would say, we start in theology with the Deus dixit in Jesus as witnessed in the Scripture and in the church, we have to wrestle with Scripture, the history of doctrine as well as with our reason as it is shaped in present times and as our questions are shaped by present challenges. The authors take up this challenge by telling a story informed by exegetical insight, a story of dogmatically informed belief interconnected with the theological claims of Luther, Augustine, Hegel, Tanner, and Moltmann (22–28).

So raising the question of method is not a critique of the book, but a question that emerges as I was reading it. Theology as narration of the Christian story is en vogue. In the German speaking realm Ralf Frisch recently read Karl Barth as a master storyteller. Ricœur told us how we grasp reality through narratives. Biblical scholars now work quite often with synchronic readings of the biblical narratives. However, reading a narrative dogmatics was a first for me. On less than 250 pages, it interweaves biblical witness, major theological loci, and themes from our present times into an encompassing tale of the world from beginning to end. 

In spite of its brilliant execution, my remaining unease with this method concerns the authors’ claim not to propose a “theory of everything”, but rather to tell a “story of everything” with God as the principal author of that story (19). A theory can be prompted for its interconnectedness with other theories and the other sciences, and it would be under constant pressure to fill any gaps through more theorizing. 

So what is the criterion for a convincing narrative? Of course, a story does not have to cover all topics and eventualities. How differently could we tell one story? Could we not tell the same story as a story of the temple or of the kingdom (10–11), and would one end up somewhere different, but no less true to the scriptural witness? 

Even the three stories of the biblical books of Exodus, John’s Gospel, and Revelation retold in Home are all different versions of the same story. The authors claim that the latter are “both variations on the theme set by Exodus and a continuation of the same story” (26). For instance, the baptism in John is analogous to the exodus from Egypt as a delivery from slavery, and it is analogous to the exodus from Babylon in the book of Revelation (206). 

Thus, The Home of God is a constructive approach to dogmatic storytelling. This approach struck me as most intriguing but also challenging, for the distinctive composition of the story as a whole implies certain theological claims, while its parts come across as exegetical claims or simply paraphrase. The mode of storytelling invites and inspires theological reflection, but it also complicates the dialogue with classical dogmatics.

In what follows, I try to look at the book’s main principle of home-making and then pick up one specific theme, the indwelling, home-taking Spirit, with regard to three dogmatic topics: faith, sin, and transformation.

The basic principle of the story is the meeting of God’s home and the human’s home on earth with Rev 21:3: “Behold, the home of God is among humans” (4). This picks up a strand of biblical imagery which alludes to a rich phenomenology of being at home and making a home. The story of God’s homemaking is told as a critique of our present time in order to evoke the longing for a different, better home of love (see 2). The main thesis is: “Christian faith actually offers a vision of a form of the world toward which we can joyfully direct our hopes and strivings. We argue that creation comes fully to itself when, indwelled by God, it becomes God’s home and creatures’ home in one” (2). 

The image of being at home invites further exploration. What does it mean for a person to find a home in faith? How is the reality of our worldly homes with all its challenges (family, mortgage/economy, pollution to name few) altered by faith? And how does the aspect of redemption figure in establishing an oikos?

The story begins with the Exodus out of bondage in Egypt, i.e. with a move from the house of slavery into a people of God in the promised land. The authors tell us about God’s affectionate handling of the Israelites’ suffering (locus: theodicy). They tell us about the trust and faith required of the divinely-elected leader Moses as well as of the people of Israel (as condition and fruit of salvation; 41) to become God’s covenant-people (locus: faith). Thereby faith is directly dependent on the character of God who reveals God’s name and mercy (locus: doctrine of God; 42–47, 56–62). Here the authors introduce the dualism of oikos and dysoikos that will reappear often in the story: Egypt incorporates all dysoikic ways of living, whereas the promised land symbolizes the homelike life (48). Thus, the exodus becomes a story of liberation—even as the homecoming of the people of God is tied to living within the covenant-law that constitutes their home (51). 

In the Gospel of John, God’s homecoming is told as the incarnation in a human body, instead of accompanying Israel through the tabernacle (74). The goal of the second part of the book is to explore this shift. God is now viewed as Father, Son/word, and Spirit (loci: the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the incarnation as true God and true human; 80–96). Jesus reveals God as love (101). In his death and resurrection, the themes of sin, forgiveness and new life are addressed (locus: doctrine of the cross; 110–23) and by Jesus’ resurrection a new worldly presence of Christ in the Spirit is introduced (122). Through faith, one becomes God’s child and a member of the divine household. This life in God’s oikos is mediated by the Spirit yet a voluntary decision for a life in the love of God and others (locus: the doctrine of the twofold law of love as new commandment; chap. 6). 

In the final part, the whole story is retold from the vantage point of Revelation. Here, judgement and condemnation are discussed. The tension between God’s renewal and judgment for one’s deeds and sinful willing is solved by painting two alternative futures under the images of the dysoikos, i.e. Babylon, and the oikos, i.e. the New Jerusalem. The narrative arc ends with the “mutual indwelling of God and creation” on this renewed earth (212).

In this story of God and humans finding a home with one another, three interrelated topics stand out to me as especially interesting for further conversation:

  1. Faith is outlined as trust, assent, and will (136). In coming to faith, one needs all three and must enact them through one’s own capacities in the deepening journey of faith. At the same time, the authors describe faith as the gift of being born of the Spirit (141). However, in their analysis of faith as “seeing,” in John’s Gospel, the authors claim that “a person can commence a journey to receive Jesus” (144). This makes the aspects of election and grace seem less prominent. Here the emphasis on “the need for the reception of God by faith” (27) is especially telling, as it is raised against Tanner’s theory of Christ’s incorporation of the world. Reading along further, one continues to wonder whether the authors consciously avoid talking about grace or whether this is a result of reading John instead of Paul. Likewise, the Israelites’ acceptance of the covenant in Exodus, the “seeing” of faith (see 142-144; 186), and the indwelling Spirit are narrated in ways that often blur the lines between divine action and human deeds. 
  2. According to the authors’ reading of John, sin is not the predominant problem solved by the incarnation (97). Though the book does not spare us the brutal reality of our world, it does not conceptualize it as sinful, rather it is rendered as the contrary to God’s home using the term dysoikic (17). Instead of reading the incarnation as a presupposition of salvation or as the world’s incorporation into Christ, it is conceived as a “dwelling among” (John 1:14) people, thereby bringing creation to its fulfillment (98). Thus, the lifestyle of Babylon is the dysoikic alternative to the New Jerusalem provided by God’s nearness. This modifies Luther’s strict distinction between gospel and law as well as inner and outer person (27).

In their storytelling of the cross, they follow the Johannine sayings about the lamb bearing sin and sins to give life, without giving a reason why the death on the cross was necessary other than stating that it was for forgiveness as a crucial part of homemaking (114, 117).

  1. The treatment of faith and sin leads me to my third question: what does the transformative power of faith consist in? Put differently: How are the present and the future connected in eschatology? Here the authors again introduce two agents without clarifying their interrelatedness: God giving abundantly (160) and the deed of the disciples (165). Both are tied together in God’s Spirit with the goal of a “transition from the dysoikic realities of the present world to the new world become God’s home” (171). Thereby the Spirit becomes central to the narrative, since the story of redemption does not target a transcendent reality but our present reality, as “Christ’s mission was to change this world” (128). Creation and new creation are tied together by the Spirit, who is “the life-giving Spirit of both the original and the new creation, affirming the first and giving them a foretaste of the second” (129). And it is through the Spirit that God dwells within believers and is with creation in order “to form God’s home” (135). However, the locus of transformation lies in the disciples, who were “transformed from mere recipients of God’s gifts to givers of gifts, God’s and their own in one” (165). Thus, the interim is a time for the church to pursue its mission of home-making by coloring the world with God’s love (164–68). 

This again raises in my view the question of agency, which might be easier to tackle in a theory than in a story. What is the active role of the human? Similar to the interpretation of John, the readings of Exodus and Revelation remain ambiguous: “Both the departure from the world as it is (in Exodus, deliverance from Egypt) and the entry into the world become the home of God (in Exodus, God’s coming to dwell in the tabernacle) are God’s work, though humans are not mere passive beneficiaries but joyful participants” (206–7). It is stressed that the home of God “cannot simply be a human project” (208), rather, it is a gift for those who imitate Christ and remains a gift (208–9). But this again oscillates between a gift for the willingly receiving believers and one for humanity as such. 

I would like to frame these questions regarding faith, sin, and transformation as an invitation to further unfold the core imagery of “home.” How do we make our home in the world when we are at once invited into God’s oikos and yet still living in the dysoikos of an imperfect world? What does sanctification in faith mean for human agency when God is “in and with” creation? How does the indwelling of the Spirit reflect an existence that finds itself simul iustus et peccator? Perhaps the existential experience of living in the polarity of grace and sin, nearness and concealment introduces a further dramatic arc into the story of God’s home and homemaking between the times. 

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    Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

    Reply

    Reply to Schuez

    Juliane Schüz has graciously done the work of taking our rather idiosyncratically arranged partial systematic theology and mapping it onto some of the key loci of traditional dogmatics. We both have benefited a great deal in our own intellectual development from works with that traditional structure. Moreover, we find the categories helpful to work with, so it is a pleasure to see our work put into dialogue with them. 

    Much of Schüz’s essay is characterized by a stance of curious questioning. When discussing our presentation in The Home of God of a “story of everything” rather than a “theory of everything,” we take her curiosity to be mixed with a healthy portion of skepticism. This, we acknowledge, is quite understandable. “Narrative” was put to a rather over-enthusiastic use in theology and biblical studies toward the end of the last millennium and the beginning of this one. One got the sense that narrative was supposed to be the conceptual skeleton key that would unlock every theological problem, the panacea that would cure the ills of both liberalism and fundamentalism, modernity and postmodernity. It did no such thing. We have aimed for a more chastened employment of the category of “story,” but we are convinced that the category is an important one.

    Christianity, as we understand it, it a historical faith. To explain what we mean, it will be helpful to identify two alternative possibilities. Consider, first, Hans Frei’s brief characterization of two kinds of savior myths, that of the mysteries and that of so-called Gnosticism, in The Identify of Jesus Christ. The mysteries’ myths of dying and rising saviors, he says, reflect in story form the “constantly reiterated rhythm of death and rebirth.”1 And the gnostic myths, as Frei reads them, functioned as “a reflective, intellectual pointer to something else, mysterious and hidden in the depths of the soul.” Each type of myth sought “to provoke a kind of interior insight.”2 Whether Frei’s characterizations are historically accurate (they most likely are not) is irrelevant to the present point. What matters for our purposes is that they pick out a coherent conceptual possibility. Their differences notwithstanding, in both cases, the myth indicates something that is structurally true, whether of the cosmos with its rhythms of life and death or the soul in its relation to eternal truth.3 The story, in short, is about something other than what it recounts. At least some very central Christian stories are markedly different from this. “The New Testament story,” Frei writes, “deals simply and exclusively with the story of Jesus of Nazareth, whether real or fictional, and not with anybody else or with every other person under the cover of Jesus’ name.”4 Jesus is a character, not a symbol. And moreover, the story of Jesus recounted in the gospels and referenced or presupposed in the rest of the New Testament, purports to be a story about actual events in the world of the authors and readers of those texts. This feature of Christian faith comes rather sharply into focus in perhaps the oddest two words of the creeds: “Pontius Pilate.” Pilate is decidedly not a mythological figure, but a Roman governor of Judea belonging to the world not only of the gospels, but of Philo of Alexandria, Josephus, and the minting of Roman coins. 

    Buddhism, at least in most of its forms, can represent a second alternative. Here there are quite specific claims about things that have happened. Siddhartha Gautama was born at a particular time and place, renounced his royal inheritance, sought enlightenment, found it under the bodhi tree, and taught others the path to it. The stories about him are about him and no one else, rather as the New Testament stories about Jesus are about him. There is still, however, a significant difference. What the Buddha realizes is a set of, so to speak, structural truths about the way things are. His is the discovery in time of timeless truth. The relation of God to God’s creation encapsulated in the creeds, in contrast, is inherently temporal (at least from creatures’ side). It has an arc. It develops. The election of Israel, for example, precedes the birth, death, and resurrection of the incarnate Word. And, decisively, much in this relation is yet to come: judgment and the general resurrection and the life everlasting. Promises—from “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind” (Gen 8:21) to “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20)—are central to God’s relation to the creation, and promises are definitionally temporal. 

    When we say that Christianity is a historical faith, then, we mean it in a twofold sense: (a) Christian life takes shape in relation to specific happenings that are significant in and as themselves, and (b) the fundamental relation that determines Christian life, the relation of God to God’s creation, is not merely structural but, at least from the perspective of creatures, dynamically temporal. From this it follows that a Christian way of life exists within the horizon of a story of everything. Christian ontology can never be entirely without story. That is why the creeds are not collections of abstract axioms, but follow a schematic narrative structure.5

    In querying our decision for “story” over “theory,” Schüz suggests that the former might suffer from a lack of criteria for assessment. How can we tell what counts as a good theological narrative? She asks whether we could not just as well “tell the same story as a story of the temple or of the kingdom” without losing any of the story’s “truth.” Her question is closely related to Keri Day’s regarding our focus on Exodus, John, and Revelation. Our answer, accordingly, is similar. Whenever Christians offer a rendering of the story of everything, they inevitably leave most everything out. Not all the happenings with which a story deals can be included in the story. Like the map of the empire in Borges’s fable “whose size was that of the Empire,” a story that was co-extensive with its subject matter would be absurd—all the more so, when the subject matter is not a fictional invention but reality itself.6 It makes sense that the whole dynamic expanse of God’s relations to all that is not God can be rendered in multiple convincing ways. (Which is not to say that all of them will be mutually compatible or equally convincing.) What’s more, the pretense to totality and finality tends toward an intellectual imperialism that has all-too-often gone hand in hand with a material one.7 Our hope is to have offered a contextually fruitful and enduringly plausible rendering of a story that only God knows in its entirety.

    In closing, we would like to highlight the crucial question for Christian living—especially in socio-cultural contexts where home is a troubled category (not to mention reality)—that Schüz hits on near the end of her essay: “How do we make our home in the world when we are at once invited into God’s oikos and yet still living in the dysoikos of an imperfect world?” The call to Christian life is not a call simply to “settle down” in, so to speak, a “move-in ready” pre-fab housing unit. It is a call to the challenging work of homemaking on the way, in the midst of exodus. Schüz adds an important dimension by connecting this question with one about the Spirit and the life of those who are “at once just and sinners.” She reminds us that we not only live in dysoikic contexts but in our various ways contribute to the distortedness of those contexts and are attached to them in their very distortion. In the apocalyptic terminology we use in The Home of God, we are all in some measure (although not all in the same measure) citizens of Babylon and not only Jerusalem.  


    1. Hans Frei, The Identity of Jesus Christ: The Hermeneutical Bases of Dogmatic Theology, updated and expanded edition (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2013), 67.

    2. Frei, Identity, 68.

    3. Cf. R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994 [1946]), 15: “The narrator is using the language of time‐succession as a metaphor in which to express relations which he does not conceive as really temporal.”

    4. Frei, Identity, 69.

    5. Frances Young, The Making of the Creeds (London: SCM, 1991), 4.

    6. Jorge Luis Borges, “On Exactitude in Science,” in Collected Fictions, trans. Andrew Hurley (New York: Penguin, 1998), 325. Cf. Nietzsche’s aphorism, “I distrust all systematizers and avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity” (Twilight of the Idols, “Arrows and Epigrams,” §26, trans. Judith Norman, in The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005]). To claim that your systematic reduction of the whole perfectly captures the whole is, for Nietzsche, fundamentally dishonest. Something akin to this worry seems to motivate David Kelsey’s proposal for an “systematically unsystematic theology” (Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009], 44–45).

    7. This is a common theme of much postmodern and decolonial thought. See, for instance, David Tracy, “Fragments: The Spiritual Situation of Our Time,” in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, ed. John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon, 170–84 (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999); László F. Földényi, “Dostoevsky Reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts into Tears,” in Dostoevsky Reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts into Tears, trans. Ottilie Mulzet, 19–49 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020); Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

Emmanuel Durand

Response

Salvation in the Form of Its Historical Opposites

The Home of God is a masterwork that represents a renewal of theology. Its authors dare to elaborate a systematic discourse that closely approximates biblical language. Many theologians today are seeking an exegetical theology, and Volf and McAnnally-Linz succeed in offering a model of the genre: the Book of Exodus serves as a matrix for the discussion of God’s dwelling with his people; the Gospel of John is the Christological and pneumatological condensation point; and the Book of Revelation symbolically anticipates the denouement of God’s dwelling with his entire creation. The unifying metaphor is that of the household, which is clearly distinguished from the dysfunctional homes we are too often familiar with. God wants to dwell not only with his people, but with every human being. This divine project of dwelling is the vector that unifies the great biblical narrative. Along the way, there is room for a constellation of households, which the authors avoid calling a city (I will come back to this point). At the end of the biblical adventure, God and the Lamb inhabit the new earth along with their people, and the whole earth becomes the Holy of Holies.

The rereading of Exodus here is particularly insightful and instructive, claiming that although Moses plays a special role, God establishes an unmediated covenant with his people. The Tabernacle represents the concrete anticipation of God’s plan to dwell among them. At the same time, the inclination towards apostasy is such that his people can never exist without forgiveness. The tensions characteristic of salvation history are decisive for the ongoing adventure of the covenant: between God’s absence and his presence; between the partiality (towards particulars) and the universality of his covenant; between the gift of the land and incessant wandering. The challenge of absence is met by the portable tabernacle that concretizes God’s way of walking with his people. The scandal of partiality leaves God’s sovereignty intact, but it also signals the universality willed by God, from Genesis, through the election of Abraham. The promise includes the possession of the land, but this remains the conduit for God’s presence among humans. Exodus sharpens expectations and outlines a future to come. The fulcrum of this long story is, according to the Gospel of John, Christ Jesus, who responds point by point to Exodus, intensifying the paradoxes between particularity and universality, absence and presence.

The authors’ rereading of Revelation paints a fascinating picture of the final state of renewed creation, in which the old creation is led by God to its ultimate truth. The earth itself is destined to become God’s home among human beings. Moreover, like the first creation, the new creation is a gift. Humans cannot bring it about through historical millennialism. Here, worship, politics, and economics attain their definitive truth: Culturally, in the New Jerusalem, all humans are high priests. They enter and live in the Holy of Holies; the whole city is a temple of earthly dimensions. Mutual inhabitation no longer occurs solely between God and his people, but between God and the whole of creation. Politically, all people reign with God and the Lamb. The throne is now accessible to everyone, and everyone receives a new and unique name, which demonstrates the impossibility of manipulation. Economically, the new city is endowed with the wondrous features of a garden. The river of life fertilizes the earth and everyone receives life also for the sake of others. Work regains its original meaning: plowing and tending become concrete acts of praise and gratitude. Wealth is now measured by what really counts; accumulation is no longer tallied up. Finally, matter itself is transparent to the glory of God, which shines in all things. The presence of God ennobles physical creation: the whole of creation becomes the Burning Bush that is not consumed. All people are within the manifestation of God. To enjoy creatures inhabited and transfigured by God is simultaneously to enjoy God, but not God alone.

Volf and McAnnally-Linz’s book is edifying in both its theological style and its doctrinal content. In honor of the powerful challenge presented by this masterwork, I will first sketch the book’s method and call it into question from a specific angle, before revisiting one aspect of the work’s content, namely the ambiguous metaphor of the city.

The authors’ project of elaborating a systematic theology in the biblical vein is convincing. That said, it is not free from confessional presuppositions. For example, the insistence on the dialectic of absence and presence, even at the time of the incarnation, as well as the assertion that God’s glory is perceptible only in the humiliated flesh of Christ, are important motifs in the Lutheran tradition. A circularity between the interpretation of Scripture and a specific faith tradition is thus operative in this work, as in any theology that is not a mere exercise of pure reason. However, the main challenge of an exegetical theology seems to me to lie elsewhere: How can we elaborate a discourse that is accessible to our contemporaries, including outside our confessional circles, by adopting a language as specific as that of Exodus and the Gospel of John? The closer a theology remains to the biblical witness, the greater its semantic and soteriological richness. However, it loses its relevance for potential listeners who have not been molded by this same biblical language. This is why anthropological mediations of faith are necessary to make explicit the universal message of the biblical witness. For example, the dialectic between particularity and universality, which plays out fully in Exodus and the Gospel of John, speaks to a widely shared anthropological and cultural challenge: In what form is the universal accessible and at what cost? Is a passage or detour through particularity indispensable for a universal proposal to be credible? Is the partiality of an elective love the only possible demonstration of a love ultimately extended to all? This is the basic logic of election: It is because God chose Abraham with a view to blessing—from near and dear—all of humanity that God’s love became credible in its universal aim. If God had simply said to humanity as a collective, “I love you,” no one would have been moved by such a general revelation. Articulating these kinds of questions reveals the relevance of the biblical witness. Salvation history encounters the divided humanity of Babel, which either doubts the universal or seeks it in oppressive ways. The Jewish tradition and the Christian faith offer a singular response to a challenge of common humanity subjected to conflicting particularisms. The subtitle of Volf and McAnnally-Linz’s work, “A Brief Story of Everything,” signals their ambition to make a universal statement. However, the necessary elucidation of the anthropological register underlying this theological project is missing at points.

As for the book’s content, the integrating power of the metaphor of the household is remarkable. The household is well established as the semantic focal point from the beginning. But while I am convinced by the authors’ proposal, I am puzzled that they hardly exploit the image of the city, which incorporates a multiplicity of related households. Yet the New Jerusalem is a city. This deserves special attention. The biblical history of cities is fraught with ambiguity and sin. The first builder of a city is Enoch, son of Cain (Gen 4:17). Cities soon become synonymous with excess, exaltation, and oppression, with the mad project of Babel—a city with a tower, both under construction and unfinished (Gen 11:1–9). The biblical city often resembles a political deformation of the household, a dysoikos (dysfunctional home) in the terminology of Volf and McAnnally-Linz. They devote a chapter to the Babylon of Revelation. Notwithstanding the disastrous genealogy of human cities, at the end of the great biblical narrative, a new and holy city descends from Heaven. The definitive form of salvation thus appropriates a major deviation in human history: the human project of cities. Similarly, God’s reign appropriates a human history of kingship, which was originally a divine concession to the desire to align with the dysfunctional politics of the nations surrounding the chosen people (1 Sam 8). God thus gives salvation through concrete forms that are marked by a history of deviation and sin. “Make not the house of my Father a house of traffic,” Jesus warns the sellers in the temple (John 2:16). The city, the temple, and the throne have been misappropriated, overexploited, and deformed. God, however, takes up the side roads followed by humanity and by his people: A city descends from Heaven and is wholly a temple. God and the Lamb share the throne, and the elect of all nations now reign alongside them. God’s dwelling place takes on the stigma of human history and religious institutions. These are transfigured and sanctified, but still recognizable. For us, salvation comes in the form of a conversion of these ambiguous realities, and even of its historical opposites: a city-temple and a throne. Only God knows how to accomplish such things.

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    Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

    Reply

    Reply to Emmanuel Durand

    We feel honored, perhaps more than we deserve, by Emmanuel Durand’s estimation of our book’s stature. What is unquestionably true is that we do hope and work for a “renewal of theology.” A genuinely theological voice is needed today more than ever, and yet theology is ensnared in the processes of marginalization. It is both being marginalized, and it is marginalizing itself. Doing systematic theology in a biblical mode, not by proof-texting but by inter-textual theological reading of key canonical books, seemed to us essential for its renewal.

    One of the reasons for working directly with canonical Scriptures is an aspiration to write ecumenical rather than confessional theology. The Bible is authoritative for all Christian confessions. And yet, as Durand rightly observes, the book is “not free from confessional presuppositions.” It stands, roughly, in the tradition of the Finnish Luther interpretation (which was itself developed, we should note, in the context of ecumenical engagement of Lutheran scholars with Orthodoxy). The example Durand gives, however — that “God’s glory is perceptible only in the humiliated flesh of Christ” — rests on a misunderstanding. The position for which we argue, pushing against a reading of the crucifixion in John as enthronement, is well expressed in the opening chorus of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John’s passion: “Show us through your passion that you, the true Son of God at all times, are glorified even in your most lowly state.” Instead of “only,” we highlight “even,” just as Bach’s unknown (Lutheran) librettist does. Christ was in the glory of the Father before the creation of the world and returns in that same glory, and he manifested glory throughout his life (as signaled by the first miracle he performed, 2:11). On the cross, his glory does not give way to humiliation, but shines through that very humiliation. This is possible because love is the substance of God’s glory. (Without reference to John, our colleague David Kelsey argued recently for such a reading of God’s glory in Human Anguish and God’s Power.) To state that God’s glory is manifest on the cross as John does is not to claim that everyone can see it there, or that it can only be seen there. It is easier to perceive that the “earth is full of God’s glory” (Isa 6:3) or that the transformation of water into well-aged wine attests Jesus’ glory, than to perceive divine glory in the tortured body hanging on the cross. Even so, in all three cases we need eyes capable of seeing what is in fact there to be perceived. 

    Durand expresses well a tension we faced in doing biblical systematic theology. For him as for us, it is not so much a tension between systematic coherence and the “unruliness” of texts written over centuries, but between the fecundity of the biblical traditions and their ability to reach readers who imaginatively don’t inhabit the world of the Bible. The issue is important. In twentieth-century theology there is an analogous tension between theologies which stay close to the Bible and tradition and those that seek (a greater degree of) mediation between these sources of faith and modern culture. In Protestant theology it is Karl Barth vs. Paul Tillich; in Catholic theology, it is Hans Urs von Bathasar vs. Karl Rahner. But the need to hold together identity and relevance (to use the phraseology from the first chapter of Moltmann’s The Crucified God) pushes theologians to combine both, giving precedence to one or the other. 

    We have chosen to trust in the power of biblical traditions themselves to speak across the boundaries of times and places, to make themselves relevant. We believe that they still speak even in highly biblically illiterate cultural spaces. Contemporary philosophical and psychological readings of the Bible bear witness to this (e.g., Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, or even Jordan Peterson). But though our book consists of close theological exposition of biblical texts, that exposition is guided by a single metaphor, that of “home.” The metaphor biblical. It is at the heart of the story of the Prodigal, which shaped much of the spiritual and world-historical imagination of Christians over the centuries. But we also actively gather under this metaphor the priestly and royal traditions of the Bible because it has resonance in the great variety of contemporary settings. The metaphor is also alive in contemporary cultures. It is one of the preferred images for the planet as a whole, especially for those who care about its ecological health. More than just having universal scope, the metaphor has requisite depth; it evokes the nexus of personal, social, and ecological relations that are necessary for flourishing life. Finally, the metaphor of home is alive among many of those who are troubled by modern acceleration, fragmentation, and reification, whether they come from the left or from the right. That partly explains why its “integrative power . . . is remarkable,” as Durand puts it. 

    Durand rightly draws attention to the relation between universal and particular in our book. The aspiration of the book, and of the Christian faith which it seeks to explicate, is universality. Both key words in the book’s title are in the grammatical singular: home and God. The vision is of the whole world as the one home of the one God. In The Home of God we pick up the story of everything with one God among many gods coming to one people among many peoples on one of the many mountains of the world at one moment of the long history of humanity. This may a paradox, and if it is, it is an inescapable one: all universalisms are particular because the finite and particular people who have formulated and embraced them are inescapably particular. We addressed the implications of this paradox in For the Life of the World (with Matthew Croasmun, Brazos, 2020), a book about doing theology that is a methodological prolegomenon to The Home of God. But Durand adds an existential twist to this ontic observation: 

    It is because God chose Abraham — from near and dear — with a view to blessing all of humanity that God’s love became credible in its universal aim. If God had simply said to humanity as a collective, ‘I love you,’ no one would have been moved by such a general revelation” (we made a slight editorial amendment in the first sentence for the sake of clarity).

    Love is always particular, even when it is universal. In the follow-up volume to The Home of God on God and creation, we will have to take up this idea as we elucidate “the anthropological register” underlying our theological project which Durant misses.

    The final chapter of The Home of God takes up the problem of the relation between particularity and universality. Note first that at the very beginning, when the Voice from the Throne identifies the city that John of Patmos sees coming down from heaven, it describes it as the home of God and then explains: “He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples [plural], and he himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev 21:2–3). Not one people of God, but many peoples of God make up the home of God. Each person belonging to all these peoples bears three names and has therefore three overlapping identities: the name of God, the name of the city, and their own personal and secret name. Each citizen of the New Jerusalem is a “catholic personality”; the whole is refracted in them in a unique way. Perhaps that is true of each people as well. We suggest such harmonious pluralism by describing the home of God as a home of homes

    “While I am convinced by the authors’ proposal,” Durand writes toward the end of his response, “I am puzzled that they hardly exploit the image of the city, which incorporates a multiplicity of related households. Yet the New Jerusalem is a city. This deserves special attention.” We wonder whether much of the puzzle doesn’t fall into place simply by noting that Durand implies that we are using “home” in a much narrower sense than we in fact do. He consistently renders home as “household” and understands it in more restrictive, literal sense as a private residence with those who dwell in it (as in the quote above: a city is made of many households). We use “home” predominantly in a metaphorical sense. For us, a city, made of many households, is a home —a home of homes, in fact, just as the world is a home and again a home of homes. What is true is that we do not attend to the specific dynamics of each of these forms of home. In classical theological vocabulary, The Home of God, along with its sequel on God and creation, is about the dogmatic side (or “the great story” side) of God’s homemaking project. The final volume will take up the moral side of that same project in which we will explore concrete forms of life that the story of God’s homemaking suggests and, in that context, at least gesture toward the way to think about how variety of concrete “homes” in which we (along with other creatures) dwell are related—from private residences, to neighborhoods, cities, nations, and the entire planet. 

    We agree with the key point Durand makes: “God’s dwelling place takes on the stigma of human history and religious institutions. These are transfigured and sanctified, but still recognizable. For us, salvation comes in the form of a conversion of these ambiguous realities.” In the New Jerusalem, religion, politics, economics, and materiality itself are sanctified and transfigured: all citizens are high-priests living in the holy of holies; all citizens are royalty sitting with God on the throne, etc. These are all “conversions” of roughly the type Durand is suggesting. We use the Pauline image of different forms of the world to express this idea: the current form of the world—the current partially unhomed form of God’s home, the Babylon of today—is “passing away” (1 Cor 7:31) and the new form of God’s home, the New Jerusalem of tomorrow, is coming.

Beth Felker-Jones

Response

A Theology of Worldliness

On every page of The Home of God, Volf and McAnnally-Linz gift us with a theology for the world, a theology of worldly character, a theology of the worldly and not of the otherworldly. Their theology is one in which this world is becoming God’s true home. It is one in which incarnation “underscores the significance of the home’s materiality and shows that the presence of God in the world in no way detracts from its worldliness but brings the world in its worldliness to fulfillment” (90). It is a theology in which our end is good work in the world that is God’s home, wherein “All that remains is thirsting after more of just that world—more of God and the world in their distinction and unity—and therefore maintaining and enhancing it” (219).

Just this worldliness, I believe, is a vital center of Christian theology because it is so deeply about Jesus, and so, the book opens us to much needed possibilities for theological imagination and the embodiment thereof. Below, I’ll ask some questions about the book in two categories, the first about the book’s claim to narrating the story of everything and the second, related, category, about the nature of the worldliness and the home that we are speaking of and how we might explore further implications of the world as God’s home. As I ask these questions, my doing so is located firmly in the context of my appreciation for the book’s call to worldliness.

Everything

Wolf and McAnnally-Linz insist that they’re telling us the story of “everything” and center that insistence on the image of “home” and of God’s coming to share a home with us as the right image for that everything. They argue, for example, for a shift from temple metaphors to home metaphors as a way of including more of “everything” within our theological accounts. Similarly, they reject “kingdom” as central metaphor “partly because not all of life is politics and partly because the politics evoked by the metaphor of kingdom runs counter to the politics of the New Jerusalem” (11).

I’m puzzled. While persuaded that attending to the right metaphors and imagining those metaphors rightly is a great deal of the theological task, I’m unconvinced of the need for “the” right metaphor, as opposed to many right metaphors, and, if Wolf and McAnnally-Linz want to dig in there, I’d like to hear a great deal more from them about why. Scripture piles metaphor on metaphor in helping us to know God, allowing the metaphors to dizzy us into glimpsing the dazzling otherness of God.

Consider the quote, above, about passing over the metaphor of kingdom; “because not all of life is politics” and “because the politics evoked by the metaphor of kingdom runs counter to the politics of the New Jerusalem” (11). I suppose these two objections to “kingdom” contain a lot of truth, but that truth seems to apply to any metaphor. Surely home, too, cannot describe “all of life,” nor does the metaphor automatically evoke holy, healthy biblical resonances. We’re sinners immersed in a world of sin, and all our metaphors evoke things that “run counter” to the vision of holiness and health revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Volf and McAnnally-Linz are clear about the sinful resonances we may attach to home and coin the word dysoikos to name the harms of home, the “parodic sinful distortion of home,” (15) and the characteristic forms that distortion too often takes. So, home, like kingdom, requires relearning, reimagining, if we are to seek faithfulness. All our metaphors need both exorcism and sanctification if they are to help us speak truly of God and live well together.

My puzzlement over the insistence on one metaphor extends into the book’s method, which Volf and McAnnally-Linz intend to be primarily a reading of Scripture, specifically, in this volume, a reading of “home” in Exodus, John, and Revelation. “We discern God’s character best,” they tell us, “by observing what God does within the story of everything” (43). I, too, see Scripture as the center of the story of everything and am interested in paying attention to God’s character revealed in that story; the method sought by Volf and McAnnally-Linz is a delight; may such readings multiply!

Still, a volume of this size cannot, of course, try to closely read the whole of Scripture, requiring the choice of the three books named. Assuming those books were chosen because they’re helpful for unfolding the reading of “home” provided, we readers may want to know how that reading would change were three other books chosen. Is “home” as persuasive a metaphor if we read Leviticus, Mark, and Hebrews, or might “temple” again make a stronger appeal? And, while it is always refreshing to see theology focus elsewhere than on Paul, we theologians can’t leave him alone, and his corpus might press other metaphors again. Where does cross, for instance, fit with home? I have no objection to a theology centered on “home;” in fact, I rather love it, but I’d like to hear more from Volf and McAnnally-Linz on their insistence on singularity here, and, more generally, on how they’re thinking about hermeneutics.

What kind of worldliness? What matters about home?

At the beginning of the volume Volf and McAnnally-Linz do some work in defining what home is and what matters about it. For instance, home, we’re told, includes relations, resonance, attachment, belonging, and mutuality (14). And, as noted above, they’re aware of the ways home can be twisted, of the harms of home they name as dysoikos. My questions, here, are mostly about wanting more about what home means, more about home gone wrong, and more about the kind of worldliness the metaphor “home” invites us to embrace.

As woven through several strands of feminist thought, the idea of “home” invites us to think about women, about the Kinder, Küche, Kirche of it all. It invites us to think about children, and meals, and gardens, and who does the dishes and cleans the toilets (vital aspects of the work Volf and McAnnally-Linz point to with eschatological longing), and it invites us to worry about and rise up for justice over the ways “home” can cover so many sins in precisely this realm. I kept waiting for the book to get there, excited to see how it would play out, but it didn’t do so. It’s silly to criticize anything for not including one’s own pet interests, but I do think the theme of home begs, here, for more outright feminism and for more attention to aspects of worldliness that have so often been the realm of women.

While Volf and McAnnally-Linz attend to dysoikos, their rejection of the “kingdom” metaphor for the reason that “the politics evoked by the metaphor of kingdom runs counter to the politics of the New Jerusalem,” suggests to me that they still under-attend to those harms of home. Among those harms, they note, especially, slavery and violence, which are important, but most of the account assumes that we’re capable of living “home” fairly well, though the authors know how incapable we are of living the kingdom rightly.

Perhaps it’s too easy to forget that domestic matters are political (“the personal is political,” as some of those feminists would have it), that violence and slavery are explicitly linked to gender, race, and class in ways that poison our homes. Maybe all of life is politics, after all. When the New Testament talks about the family in the home, it remembers this, working into those household codes explicit protections for women, slaves, and children. How does the dysoikos that so damages our homes vary along with culture and context? In North America, we’re so used to thinking about home in terms of the self-sufficient nuclear family, for instance, though that context is foreign to Scripture. Or, to bring matters closer to my own home, in Chicago, how can we theologize home without also theologizing redlining and, long before that, colonialism? I’d love to hear Volf and McAnnally-Linz begin to unfold some of this.

More positively, it strikes me that there’s plenty of opportunity here to provide a further account of home as it relates to the Spirit and the church, to account for homemaking as church-making, after Jesus’s ascension, as we think about the presence of God, at home right here, with us. I think of Luther, one of the figures Volf and McAnnally-Linz name as key for their thought, and his tender attention to the vocation of home and hearth. I think of the art of homemaking, and the men and women who devote love and care to recipes and hospitality and coziness. I wonder about life in the household, and what it has to do with joy, obedience, and mission, and I turn over knotty questions about the boundaries of home: how to be hospitable while also offering the protection home must offer to those who belong there.

I think of kinship and family. How does “home,” as the center of the story of God’s presence, help us to imagine our relationships aright, to those who are blood and those who are not? What does it mean that new birth and adoption—both home and family metaphors—sit at the center of the story of salvation? I think of babies and small children and the sick and the old. I think of the way the New Testament relativizes biological family and babies in favor of the family of the church and evangelism and the fruits of the Spirit. I think of the table as the center of the home and of what it means to feed, to nourish, across years, and of the Lord’s table and the wedding supper of the Lamb. And I wonder, how do these matters matter to the God who makes a home among us? I’m not suggesting Volf and McAnnally-Linz should have answered all these questions, but they are questions their book excites for me, questions it would be lovely to discuss with them, over a cup of tea. I’m grateful for the book and look forward to continued conversations about what it means for God to make a home among us.

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    Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

    Reply

    Reply to Beth Felker Jones

    In the first section of her response, Beth Felker-Jones pays us the compliment of recognizing our book as a welcome gift. We are grateful. In the last and the longest section of her response she mainly asks for “more about what home means, more about home gone wrong, and more about the kind of worldliness the metaphor ‘home’ invites us to embrace.” For that, too, we are grateful. But there is a complaint wrapped up in that compliment. She keeps “waiting for the book to get” to that more, and she keeps being disappointed, her excitement deflated. Instead of naming and engaging concrete issues—for instance, the problems associated with the entrenched division of roles in domestic homes which often egregiously disfavor women and are matters not just of inconvenience but injustice right there in the middle of what should be the warmth of home—we skirt around them.1

    Both the good news and the bad is that our skirting was quite intentional. We have deliberately left for a subsequent volume focused consideration of such issues in relation to homes of various types (domestic home, village/city home, national home, planetary home) in their various dimensions (cultural, economic, political, ecological). There we will take up in a more detailed way distortions of home, as well as the question whether church is best understood as a type of home or as something like meta-home—a space in which a vision and practice of home is discerned and nurtured. (What New Testament scholars sometimes call “house churches” among early Christians are very instructive in this regard. The term, “house church” suggests that the home is the church. Understood so, it is a misnomer. House or home is, in fact, not a church, but a place where the church meets; church is therefore not a home.)

    This decision raises the question—perhaps implied in Felker-Jones’s queries—of whether we have naively imagined that theological work can and ought to proceed in two discrete steps: first “theory” and then “application.” Get your abstract systematic theological ducks in a row and only then can you bring the messiness of life into the picture. Our hope and intention has been to do something more nuanced than that. The Home of God is part of a series of books that, in their own way, cover what belongs to, what was traditionally called systematic theology, with its division into apologetic, dogmatic, and moral concerns. In that division, The Home of God is an exercise in dogmatic theology (all be it an unusual exercise because it is done entirely through the reading of biblical texts). Dogmatic theology, as we understand it, is not just about the content and coherence of the set of Christian beliefs; it also sketches the contours of a moral space which frames how Christians ought to live. A good example of such dogmatic theology from the previous century is Karl Barth’s massive Church Dogmatics (at least in John Webster’s reading of it). There is little in it about resistance to Nazism, but the whole thing is also about it. We also offer something in between a sketch of moral space and concrete moral guidance. One example is our brief discussion of the politics of the New Jerusalem. Felker-Jones insists that domestic matters are political, and they are. Dogmatic matters are political, too, and there are therefore domestic as well. Consider what we write about the politics of the New Jerusalem. There is a throne in the New Jerusalem but no palace and no throne room; and on the throne sits not a king, but God and the Lamb along with all those who have conquered (which is every single citizen of the New Jerusalem!). That is the ideal politics of a Christian home. Much work, we admit, remains to be done in fleshing out the place of that ideal in actual homes today.

    In a related critique, Felker-Jones writes that our text mostly “assumes that we’re capable of living ‘home’ fairly well.” Insofar as that is true, it is a matter of failure of communicative execution, not intention. Our goal has been to negotiate rhetorically the need to say two seemingly contrary things at the same time: that actual homes in which we live can and often do represent an actual and beautiful good and that they are all also and always distorted, sometimes so terribly that we are unable to repair the harms they inflict. We do not take such distortions lightly, whether they come in form of domestic violence that can mark its victims for life or settler colonialism that can poison entire countries (indeed, whole global systems) for centuries. The Home of God starts with the horrible dysoikos of Egypt (which from a distance looked like the magnificent home of the pharaohs), and the entire penultimate chapter is about the dysoikos of imperial Rome, named in the book of Revelation “Babylon” to evoke a long history of political oppression in the Hebrew Bible. “Egypt” and “Babylon” are, as we see it, not relics of the past but present realities in our world and, to one extent or another, our hearts.

    Felker-Jones’ main unease with our book is another instance of wanting more, in this case more (and more varied) metaphors. She doubts the wisdom of our having so privileged one metaphor among the many that are used in the canonical Scripture. “Scripture,” she writes, “piles metaphor on metaphor in helping us to know God, allowing the metaphors to dizzy us into glimpsing the dazzling otherness of God.” Such a plethora of metaphors is good for spirituality and, therefore, for theology; it may be even determinative of a certain method of doing theology, biblical and highly unsystematic, perhaps held together by a narrative (or, as David Kelsey has argued, by “the complex and asymmetrical relations” among a set of “irreducible” but “inseparable” types of narratives).2 We, however, found it helpful, perhaps even important, to have a metaphor, a target to point the arrow of our longing. This may be particularly important in a theology of life (or worldliness, to use Felker Jones’ term), which does not have the advantage of the single focus of the One God. And then the very end of book of Revelation, sketching that very “target,” offered us a metaphor that was historically neglected and immensely fruitful.

    Our claim is not that “home” is the only right metaphor, not even that it is, in some ahistorical and situation independent way, the best metaphor. We also don’t think that the way the way we narrated the story of God’s homemaking is the only way to tell the story of God’s engagement with the world. Among others, kingdom and temple metaphors as ways of telling the story of why God created the world are legitimate and good as well. So why “home”?

    For one, it is alive in rather large cultural domains in which temple and kingdom are not (at least in our own cultural contexts). Unlike “temple,” it is alive not just in religious but also in secular cultures; unlike “kingdom,” it is alive in democratic and non-hierarchical cultures, and not just hierarchical ones. Put differently, the metaphoric cores of “temple” and “kingdom”—and not just distortions of these—are experienced as problematic in important and vast cultural domains, metaphors.

    Second, “home” does gather multiple central domains of life in a way that kingdom and temple do not. It represents a unity of the sorts of personal, social, and material relations that are essential to any flourishing life. Think of what often happens when newborns come into the world: a special material space, suited to them, is prepared for them, parents or significant others make sure to relate to one another in ways that will help them thrive, they committed to newborns personal development. That’s the ecology, politics, economics, and culture of newborns thriving, and we call it “home.” 

    Finally, the very ideality of home, the fact that many of us experience it or long for it as a site of wholeness, speaks in favor of it, notwithstanding the facts that for many people home has been a chamber of torments and that all homes are broken. Ernst Bloch was right when he noted that the image of home, which for him is the content of utopian hope, shines to us from childhood, but that it is in fact a place where no one has yet been. That’s why the title of our book is The Home of God, and not just The Home. The home we have in view is an eschatological vision, given to all of us both as promise and as motivation to help mend the broken homes of our lives.


    1. For a write up of research on the gendered division of household labor, see Aliya Hamed Rao, “Even Breadwinning Wives Don’t Get Equality at Home,” The Atlantic, May 12, 2019 https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2019/05/breadwinning-wives-gender-inequality/589237/.

    2. Kelsey, Human Anguish and God’s Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 202.

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Response

Does the “Home of homes” need a “law of laws”?

Some preliminary thoughts on The Home of God

We are at a turning point in history. The current conflict and disorientation on the political, economic and ecological level worldwide confronts us with the fundamental question of whether humans as one species can still deal peacefully among ourselves and share this great planet with other living creatures. In their new book The Home of God (2022) Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz approach this question with a “systematically unsystematic” (3) theology of life. This theology focuses on the theological interpretation of home as an “image” (4) of God’s successive home-making works in his creation and the transformation of the world that results from this. 

According to the two authors there are three great narratives of home in Western history: the Odyssean narrative, the prodigal narrative, and the Abrahamic narrative. Unlike the Odyssey narrative, which is characterized by its emphasis on the plurality of homes and their potential conflict with each other, the prodigal narrative highlights the universality of home. In contrast to these two narratives, the Abrahamic narrative is based on a concept of the promise of God. This promise makes possible a concept of home that integrates particularity and universality and thus becomes the “home of homes” (175): “Homes nested within a series of broader contexts that are themselves homes and at home with one another” (176).

Volf and McAnnally-Linz argue that the “home of homes,” based on the concept of the Promised Land and the mediating role of God of Abraham between humans and the land, overcomes the “abstract cosmopolitanism” (175) of the prodigal narrative on the one hand, and the “agonistic pluralism” (175) embedded in the Odyssean narrative on the other. To avoid making this concept a vague utopia, they highlight the damage home can cause, such as violence, from a realist perspective and name this potential harm as an “un-homing power” (74) rooted in sin, the dysoikos. As the authors emphasize, the “home of homes” is an eschatological vision that deals with the present state of the world “in the grip of sin” (74) and, more importantly, with its final transformation towards the new heaven and earth. 

In its essence, the “home of homes” can be seen as a positive theological vision based on a theology of life. In response to a world currently struggling between globalization and de-globalization, between war and peace, it seeks to offer a promise-based, dynamic, and God-centered reconstruction of global solidarity that begins with the transition of our daily “life in the middle” (229). In this concept of home, which I greatly appreciate, I sense the profound influence of Jürgen Moltmann’s messianic theology of eschatological hope. Indeed, the authors note themselves that Moltmann would be one of the five key interlocutors of their book, and “in spirit and content, the theology in this book is closest to his” (27). Since both Professor Volf and I completed our doctoral studies with Moltmann and still benefit from the theological tradition our “Doktorvater” initiated, I would like first to sketch the theoretical relations, which I discern between The Home of God and some of Moltmann’s central ideas. In a second step, I shall then venture a more critical response to the concept of a “home of homes.”

2.

The Exodus tradition, which documents the cultural memory of Israel’s liberation from Egypt, occupies a central place in Moltmann’s landmark book, the Theology of Hope (1964). The Exodus provides Moltmann with a grand theological narrative to address God’s liberating historical action from a God-centered perspective. The Home of God carries on this Exodus tradition and creatively transforms the classical tension between Egypt and the Promised Land into a tension between “dysoikos” and the “true home in both its material and social dimension” (51), which is related to our current situation.

Another of Moltmann’s core ideas is the eschatological presence of God in his creation. This presence expresses itself in his concept of shekinah that he derives from the Jewish tradition. In his books God in Creation (1985)1 and for The Coming of God (1995)2 the idea of God’s eschatological presence plays a fundamental role. It deepens the promise-based covenantal partnership between God and the created world and opens the cosmological dimension of the covenant. In a similar vein, The Home of God  draws on the idea of God’s coming and presence in the world for its theological interpretation of Scripture. The promise and covenant in Exodus, the incarnation in John’s Gospel, and the eschatological vision of the new heaven and new earth in Revelation become different stages of God’s home-making actions in the created world. The concept of “home of homes” thus concretizes and illustrates God’s faithfulness to his covenantal partners, which Moltmann expresses through the concept of shekinah

A key feature of Moltmann’s theology of hope is that it interprets hope through the interactivity of the covenantal relationship between God and the created world. Within the framework of the covenant, hope implies not only humans’ promise-based hope in God, but also God’s trust-based hope in humankind. We find here the theological nucleus that allows Moltmann to transform his theology of hope into an ethics of hope in his later work.3 Again, we find a systematical relation in The Home of God. Volf and McAnnally-Linz clearly note that the covenant-theological tradition corresponds to humanity’s home-making actions in the world, the former providing moral orientation and inspiration for the latter, which is to be an analogy to the former. This correspondence is necessary because “God cannot simply make the world into home, bypassing free human agency” (192). In this sense, the “home of homes,” which integrates the plurality, particularity, and universality of home, can also be interpreted as a basic moral guideline for the home-making actions of human beings. It leads us to “reconcile with one another, and actively and joyfully live in home-constituting relations” (193).

The concept of the “home of homes” is enlightening and deserves to be further explored and developed. In particular, I am interested how law relates to this concept, whether the “home of homes” alone is sufficient to balance plurality and universality, or whether it needs to be complemented by a theological concept of a “law of laws”? The “law of laws” means that there is a need for “a certain kind of order” in every community of life, and that every order contains “the assignment of responsibilities and the distribution of benefits” (11). Further, such order implies a quest for justice; not a justice that imposes itself top-down through a hierarchical structure, but a justice that reaches out to the whole of creation, including humans and other creatures on this planet and beyond. If we follow the theoretical tradition since the Reformation regarding the dialectical relationship between the gospel and the law, then it can be said that the “home of homes” embodies the gospel side of God’s home-making actions in the world, and, correspondingly, the “law of laws” would address its legal side. 

To be sure, The Home of God does not ignore the significance of law. On the contrary, the authors focus on the legal content of the covenant, the legal meaning of the Ten Commandments, the new law implied by the Incarnation, that is, love, and even their discussion of violence in the eschatological context represented by the vision of the lion leaves room for exploring the question of law. What is clear, however, is that their interpretation of the law follows a Pauline historical-theological model, focusing more on the transformation from the old law to the new law, and on the summation of love for the law. From the perspective of a “law of laws,” the universality of law is powerfully expounded here, but the plurality and particularity of laws, which correspond to the plurality and particularity of homes, seem not yet sufficiently addressed. The plurality of laws, however, is crucial for the establishment of a realistic relationship between homes with “boundaries” (175), if they do not want to be forever bound in “agonistic pluralism.” One of the most central issues for the concept of the “home of homes,” it seems to me, is how to deal with the conflicts between homes as spaces of law.

A home represents not only “a social and material space” (11), but also a legal space.4 Thus, the plurality and particularity of homes will inevitably be reflected in a plurality and particularity of laws. At the same time, homes which are different from each other share the same home of the created world, and accordingly, particular laws in pursuit of justice are necessarily related to the inclusive justice for the whole creation. However, because of sin, conflict between the laws is inevitable, and as Moltmann pointed out in his classic work The Crucified God (1972), not only did Jewish and Roman law conflict with each other, but even the incarnate Christ, who was the embodiment of the new law, died in conflict with both.5 The concept of the “home of homes” clearly has the ultimate reconciliation as its goal, but my question is, what does this eschatological, universal reconciliation mean for the plurality of homes in the existing world? According to the authors, the moral imperative of the “home of homes” highlights God’s mediating role between humanity and the land, guiding human beings to reconcile with one another and live in peace, whereas the “law of laws,” in my opinion, deals with the norm of reconciliation and the implemention of divine justice in the midst of conflict. 

In sum, The Home of God is a thought-provoking attempt to provide a biblical theological narrative of God’s home-coming actions to counter the alienation of home in the present world. To take his further, I suggest that God’s home-coming actions also contains the dimension of God’s legislation and justice. This legal dimension relates to the laws of the various communities of life on this planet, and it is necessary to present this dimension theologically, especially considering the plurality and conflict among homes in the world we inhabit. An all-embracing theological vision is only compelling if it integrates also this dimension. 


  1. Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).

  2. Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).

  3. Jürgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012).

  4. I find Hannah Arendt’s articulation of this issue to be the most illuminating among twentieth-century political theorists. In order to argue for the legitimacy of Israel’s right to judge in the Eichmann trial, she used Israel as a mode for a new interpretation of the traditional concept of territory, “home” for a particular political community, which, in her view, is  “that inevitably arises between the members of a group when they are bound together in millennia-old relationships of a linguistic, religious, and historical nature that have also been reflected in customs and laws that protect them against the outside world and differentiate them from one another. Such relationships become spatially manifest in that they themselves constitute the space within which the various individuals of the group relate to and interact with each other.” Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem. Ein Bericht von der Banalität des Bösen, Münich/Zürich: Piper Verlag, 12th ed. 2015, 384.

  5. Jürgen Moltmann, Der gekreuzigte Gott. Das Kreuz Christi als Grund und Kritik christlicher Theologie, Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlag, 2016, 119–46.

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    Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

    Reply

    Reply to Hong Liang 

    Hong Liang has re-articulated what we are after in a precise and beautiful way. His sketch of the connections between our book and the theology of Jürgen Moltmann helpfully highlights continuities. There are discontinuities as well—about the divine Father’s abandonment of the crucified Son, on the death of God, on temporality and spatiality of the new creation, and more. These differences are important in their own right, but we do not need to pursue them here, as they change little in terms of the general alignment between Moltmann and ourselves about what we might describe as the non-secular, God-indwelled worldliness of the Christian faith. 

    In the last part of Hong’s response, he speaks in his own voice expressing a significant criticism or, as we would see it, making a friendly amendment. It concerns our suggestion to think of the world as “home of homes”—God’s and creatures’ home of homes. The issue he raises is a central one: the problem of inter-home law, or, in more common vocabulary, international law. More specifically, he raises the question of the necessity of a “law of laws” that corresponds to the idea of “home of homes” and of the relation of the law of all-encompassing home to laws of the homes it encompasses. For all those who embrace a notion of home (which Hong does), the great question of our time is how to make relations among homes a home-like one so that all homes together can make one shared home. 

    One of the uses to which we put the metaphor of home is to push against deracinated ways of life that have been foisted onto the world in the wake of globalization processes and modernity more broadly. The metaphor invites richer forms of belonging to each other and to particular localities that are essential for humans, all of us finite material beings who depend for our well-being on circumscribed, thick, and enduring relations. 

    We are keenly aware that the metaphor of home is used also by the thinkers, activists, and politicians of the hard right. They use it to complain about a “great replacement” allegedly underway, to motivate “return” to some fantasized pre-modern past or autochthonous cultural mode of life, and to legitimize authoritarian rule. Such uses of the metaphor of home are not new; the Nazis employed it to analogous and horrendously disastrous effects during their brief rule. The consequence of this view is an agonistic relation of homes; the world is not then a home, but a more or less open battlefield. An alternative vision of world as home comes from the Marxist thinker Ernst Bloch. At the end of his The Principle of Hope, he used “home(land)” (“Heimat”) as a central metaphor for the world’s wholeness. But his vision, though pushing against individualism, is nonetheless too close to abstract cosmopolitanism. 

    The idea of the “home of homes”—derived from the vision of the New Jerusalem, described in the book of Revelation as the home of God with humans, who are described not as individuals but as peoples (21:3)—is an alternative to both. A more prevalent source for Christian images of “home” is the story of the Prodigal, which is usually read to imply an understanding of the global home as a universal space of undifferentiated individuals. Such an interpretation comes close to modern “abstract cosmopolitanism.” Hong takes us to interpret the Prodigal story in just this way. We in fact read it with the call of Abraham—a progenitor of a people and the one in whom “all the families of the earth” (Gen 12:3) will be blessed—in view, as its fulfillment rather than negation. The Father’s home is neither one home among many nor an undifferentiated cosmopolitan home but “the single and universal heaven of rejoicing, the home of all homes” (173). Like any home, all homes in the home of homes are bounded but porous spaces, in active and friendly exchanges with other homes. That vision seeks to honor particularities of people and places but provides a frame for overcoming agonistic relations between them, a growing danger in today’s de-globalizing world.  

    At one point in his response, Hong contrast home and law. Making the distinction between the law and the gospel his own, he associates home with the gospel and law, well with the law. As we see it, home is not pure gospel, outside the law, to which law has to be added from outside. But neither is home all law, with the possible need to soften it with the gospel (as, perhaps, when the law serves as the “norm for reconciliation” which is itself to be understood as a modality of grace). Essential for home are both gospel and grace. “The home of God” is a promise that ultimately only God can make into reality and that ought to be embraced by faith. The role of faith in Exodus is often overlooked, but we think it is fundamental, just as it is in John’s Gospel. Something analogous is true of homes at other levels; they, too, involve the grace of God’s coming—though often without explicit faith. 

    But home is always also not just human work but also a certain kind of law; the order of peace and justice is unthinkable without explicit or implicit law. Indeed, the gospel itself is an announcement of God establishing a certain form of relations (between God and humans, among humans, and between humans and other creatures) and therefore requiring a law. Put differently, a certain form of law is intrinsic to the very idea of God’s home. As Hong writes, home is a legal space: not just space onto which law is brought to bear, but the space that a certain kind of law maps.1 The law of love, the kind of love that Jesus exemplified in his entire ministry, is the law of a Christianly lived home, with the law of love, ideally, fully internalized so as to become the law of one’s being (something analogous to how Confucius described the end of the journey in the Way over the course of decades: “At seventy, I follow all the desires of my heart without breaking any rule”).2 As to requirements of justice, they are internal to love; unjust love isn’t love, as Nicholas Wolterstorff has argued in Justice in Love.3

    The most difficult question is that of the relation of the inescapable particularity of the laws of individual homes and the requisite universality of the law of the grand home to which they all belong. The Home of God sketches a universal eschatological vision. As Miroslav and Matt Croasmun have argued in For the Life of the World, the methodological book preceding The Home of God, all universalisms are particular; they are embraced by beings who are finite and situated beings, culturally, and more broadly, civilizationally (if we accept the idea that China, Russia, and “the West” stand for divergent multicultural civilizations). Within a home, debates are always going on about how properly to understand and practice love and justice. To an even greater degree, such debates—and fights fueled in part by differences—are going on among homes, especially those which might belong to distinct civilizations. These debates notwithstanding, we still need something like the “law of laws,” and are, in fact, in the laborious and slow-moving process of constructing it. Will we be able to agree on a global law that is universally binding?  

    It is important to note that, the boundaries of homes notwithstanding, we all share common humanity and the shared material reality of a common planet, which is our encompassing material home. Both common humanity and shared material space put pressure on us to pursue “the law of laws.” Those who believe that the one God seeks to make the world into God’s and creatures’ home will have additional motivation to work toward the same goal. That’s what the law of love is all about—a law that provides both the norm and the path “of reconciliation and implementation of divine justice in the midst of conflict.”4 


    1. This legal mapping of home has, as things usually do, a sin-stricken history of distorted deployment. See, for example, Brenna Bhandar’s Colonial Lives of Property (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).

    2. Analects 2.4, trans. Simon Leys (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997).

    3. Wolterstorff, Justice in Love (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).

    4. Hong, Does the “Home of homes” need a “law of laws”?

Chammah Kaunda

Response

The Home as a Theo-Biblical Category

Thinking “The Home of God” from Africa

The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything is provocative, dynamic, paradigmatic, exceptionally crafted, brilliantly paced, and lucidly articulated. It powerfully reminds us that, in a world described as in the middle of a polycrisis, religion, Christianity in particular, has a vision, a framework for the flourishing of all things. The book is weaved with grace. It articulates the idea of “home” as a site of an entangled difference, as being at home in difference; it entails a multiplicity of images. The book offers a new way of thinking that opens up western theology to the plurality of ideas of homes and homing/returns which classical thinking tended or tends to overlook. 

All this is to say that I deeply appreciated reading The Home of God, not just as a theologian, a Pentecostal Christian, but more so as a human first, before being an African—an identity perpetually located on the underside of global modernity, the most excruciating way of experiencing and encountering the “home” produced by global coloniality of knowledge, culture, existence and the very idea of home. The authors take the Home of God or God’s Home1 as a metaphorical approach to give an “unsystematic-systematic theological” unveiling of a continuum of history that intertwines the past, the present and the future in the interpretation of the story of everything. The authors take a globally sensitive reading of the Old Testament, particularly Exodus, to demonstrate the significance and the evolution of the idea of home through John’s Gospel to construct a vision of “God Coming Home.” 

All this takes us to the opening words of the book, “No keen observation is required to see that something is amiss in the world. More than something—many things. That much is obvious.”2 The “abiding out-of-jointness to things” is, perhaps, an invitation to “carefully discern” the “texture of [human] dislocation—here and now.”3 This is a radical invitation to go back to the drawing board to wrestle with the web of knowledge that conditions human existence, and determine its actual meaning to remap the mindset or re-mind the human mind. To achieve this mammoth theo-biblical task, the authors reimagine, reconceptualize, and theorize “home and homefulness (longing for home). Home is conceived both literally and metaphorically as “a complex web of relations,”4 as a “primary site of integral human life”—“bounded material, social, and personal space of resonant and reciprocal belonging that is at its best when it is situated in a homelike relation to all other spaces on the great ‘home’ that is our planet.”5

In what follows I specifically focus on the idea ofthe Home of God” as a political, socio-cultural terrain of webs of ambiguity, paradox, with multiple intersecting constructions, as a search for meaning and struggle to maintain the intricate balance of vital forces. I approach this from an African (Bemba) Pentecostal theological perspective because, as the authors argue, what is at stake in the world today is not merely the ideas of home, but the kind of ideas that could empower humanity to respond paradigmatically to the present conditions of the home. What I have in mind is the eschatology of the here and now or of the moment. This also means, as the authors observe, that the ontological, epistemological and praxeological idea of the home cannot be considered under a single category or defined universally, because in the worldview of the Bemba of Zambia, the Home of God does not exist as a separate substance from God. For God (Kwa Lesa) is Home Itself and the spirituality/vital breath that animates all vital homes. The Home (Imbusa) is the creative, originative and regenerative site of inter-indwelling and mutual participation of all vital beings and nonbeings. Imbusa loosely translates to ‘womb’ in English, yet its essence extends far beyond mere physicality. It serves as the creative and sacred site where the mystical union of God and creation unfolds, embodying the inclusive totality of spirituality and the profound wholeness of life. The inhabitants of Imbusa, whether beings or non-beings, possess no independent life; rather, they inter-indwell and participate in the Home. They are a kind of functional ritual material exemplification of some aspects of the Divine Home. All creation could be said to be a set of micro-ritual manifestations of the Cosmic Home. They represent the myriad manifestations and inhabitants of the One Home—God, each serving as a unique reflection within the unified whole. In this sense, Ubuntu as a key principle of the Home is not a homogenizing, but a harmonizing or a maintaining of the vital equilibrium of the Cosmic Home’s multiplicity of expressions. 

In this context, “home” has an ontological diasporic condition: the flickering multiplicity of homes perichoretically intra-dwelling and participating in each other in an ongoing, often chaotic flux and reflux, an assemblage of vital forces into the One Home. Here we are not dealing with a smooth ontology or a linear progression of time and events, but with a paradoxical ontology. Hence, we might appreciate Martin Heidegger’s insight that every temporal disclosure in the symbolic order is always already an infinite concealment.6 The ultimate Home to be realized by the home is always already infinitely realized in Itself. This also means that divinity is always already “manifested-unmanifested” in the temporal natalities of homes. Humanity, like all vital forces, is not merely being-in-the-world, it is being-the-world and becoming-that-very-world, or rather, becoming the Home itself. This homing capacity is the source of narratives, cultures, values, lifestyles, belief systems, and ways of interacting with God and all things. 

Therefore, the Cosmic Home represents all the critical knowledge, moral practices, and spirituality that form the vital homes. Bemba theology of the home is articulated at four-level as demonstrated in the diagram below.

As the diagram shows, in this home (imbusa)-centric ontology, all creation participates in the homing of life—Lesa. The All-thing is Home. Lesa (Bemba perception and conception of God) is the ultimate Home/Imbusa (par excellence). The earth, the community and the mother are microcosmic wombs/homes. The Home subsists in the homes. It is the singular plurality of life of the Home which animates the vital homes. The Home is the exception that is immanent to all finite homes “and thus,” in the words of Alenka Zupancic, “introduces an opening to the finite, makes [them] not-all, makes [them] infinite. Here, we are in the infinite.”7 In other words, they are marked by intrinsic non-allness, incompleteness, and permanently rocking their destiny in the Home. They are “rooted” in the abyss of divine possibilization which is the active principle of renewal and becoming; “the substance that constitutes of freedom, the capacity to begin.”8 

In symbolic terms, the human home, often represented by the mother figure, is seen as more than just a place for gestation. It is conceived as the focal point for the creation, nurturing, and flourishing of life in all its multifaceted aspects. Each vital home is a liminal (ritual) space of becoming through an incessant assemblage of other vital homes and participation in the Cosmic Home. The earth home, communal home, and maternal home are not given but constructed, not determined but contingent. They are mobile, dynamic, reversible, and becoming. Therefore, the home can be un-homed. The un-home-ing seems to be the main characteristic of contemporary reality. All finite homes have the ultimate source of their intrinsic possibility in the Home which is also the possibilizing capacity of becoming. They are complex sites of performative/functional entanglement and actualizations of meshwork interconnected and interconnecting forces of life. Hence, it is within the symbolic home, the material home which the Bemba people create the family shrine—called Maternal Breath. This is an intense site of interaction and encountering of one another, the ancestors, yet-to-be-born, and other living and spiritual forces. The maternal home is understood as a socio-relational practice of life, encompassing more than just physical space but also the intricate web of social, intellectual, mental, spiritual and emotional relationships that nurture and sustain life. Similarly, the earth home is seen as an ecosystem where diverse forms of life coexist, each contributing to the richness and inclusivity of the divine presence within the concept of Home/Imbusa. Both the maternal home and the earth home symbolize the multiplicity and inclusive diversity inherent in the manifestation of the Divine Home, emphasizing the interconnectedness and interdependence of all aspects of existence.

It is the Home that creates the homes. Hence, liminality is the condition of the home. In short, a home is an event of becoming. It is not a noun but a verb. It is what communities and families do. In reality, the idea of home-ing and homing is not just something reserved for humanity; instead, it is an intrinsic aspect that creation is inherently predisposed to manifest. The idea of “homing” implies a continual process of seeking and returning to God, the ultimate Home of all things, reflecting the inherent desire of creation to find its ultimate fulfillment and unity within God. This inherent capacity for homing, along with the quality of homeness, collectively shape and characterize the fundamental identity of all things. By implication, the idea of “God as the Home Itself” is not reduceable to any monolithic category; it is dynamic, fluid, a liminal space of constructions, negotiations and interactions.9 Life is a ritual of rituals; the cosmos is a home of homes, and God is the Cosmic Home of homes. Homeness is an attribute of God. God is an eternal Home to Godself and all creation. To argue that homeness is an attribute of God suggests that the essence of being at home, of belonging and comfort, is inherent to the Trinitarian nature. This concept implies that the Trinity embodies a sense of perichoretic familiarity, security, unconditional love, and fulfillment, akin to the feeling of being in the Trinity as their own Home. It underscores the idea that within the Trinity, there is a profound sense of unconditional acceptance, belonging, and peace, which transcends physical spaces and extends to all aspects of existence. If we dare to boldly suggest that each member of the Triune God is the Home of the other members, we can also correlate that creation is meant to mirror this Trinitarian structure. This implies that everything serves as a home for everything else within the vast multiplicity of differences. Thus, the concept of home transcends its traditional bounds and becomes a metaphor for the entirety of existence.

There is no dichotomy, and there are no confusions in the inherent relationships between the spiritual and the secular, the living and the dead, humanity and other forms of creation, the cosmos and God, and so on. For example, ancestors are regarded as having the ability to manifest themselves through various media, such as natural elements or masquerades. Individuals who believe in these manifestations do not perceive a fundamental division or experience confusion between the ancestor being manifested and the medium through which the manifestation occurs. This implies that those who hold these beliefs see a seamless connection between the spiritual realm and the physical world, where the spiritual presence can manifest itself through diverse forms without creating any significant contradiction or uncertainty for them. In other words, the Bemba philosophy of ubuntu (interpreted from a matricentric perspective) does not subscribe to conflicts or ambiguities in the fundamental connective interactions between various aspects of existence. It upholds a unified and radical view of life, ultimately one that permeates and animates all things. In this perspective, all things participate in this singular life, and since nothing exists outside or above the only life that encompasses all things, nothing can be said to be in opposition or contradiction. Instead, all things are vitally interconnected and can intra-exist harmoniously without creating confusion or conflict. It could be argued that God is the Home in the multiplicity of homes which arise within God the Home of all things.

Here the question arises: how does this help us make sense of the idea of the home in an African Pentecostal theology? African Pentecostalism perceives creation as vulnerable potentiality, as radically open to newness and becoming through the processes of fragilities, instabilities, consistencies, volatilities, and mutual creativities. It understands God and creation as mutually concealed within the mysteries of God. Hence, the Pentecostal position entertains “the idea of radical openness to God”10 and God’s economy in creation, which involves doing something impossible or otherwise new. No circle is closed in Pentecostalism; rather, the between encounters and interactions are ever-open spaces of porosity-permeabilities. Pentecostal courage is grounded in the willingness to recognize the strangeness or the mystery at work in the universe, to seek to discern the Spirit working in them. This discernment suggests an openness to the unexpected, to the seemingly impossible or incredible ways in which reality enfolds and unfolds within the mystery of God in creation, and creation in God through Christ—the redemptive home in which God lives “and through [Christ] that God reconciled everything to” God (2 Cor. 5:19-23). Thus, the essence of African Pentecostal thought consists of incarnation possibilities, multiplicity, natality, and liminality as the bedrock for interpreting and encountering God as the God of otherwise-new things, who relates with reality in mysterious ways. Harvey Cox rightly describes Pentecostalism “as the rediscovery of the sacred in the immanent, the spiritual within” the material.11  

Since African Pentecostalism interprets and articulates reality through an African religio-cultural framework that tends to also emphasize incarnation from rituality. In this system of thought, the secret of God as the Home in relation to creation and creation as a home in relation to God is exemplified in the idea of incarnation. Incarnation is first and foremost God’s revelation in creation. Arguably, God’s revelation is not for God’s sake. God does not need a revelation. God is the Revelation Itself. It is for humans’ sake to make sense of themselves and of their place in God the Home of creation, i.e. within creation. The incarnation is a revelation of the divine enigma veiled within the material reality. It unveils the endless possibilities for interpreting how God interacts with the material world. Revelation suggests that creation must realize the revealed incarnational potentiality as itself in God. Everything that is revealed to humanity is for the sake of human becoming and the flourishing of all creation. The incarnation has nothing to do with the trauma of figuring out God, but rather with the fact/goal of trans-figuring creation itself as constitutive of active home potential for becoming and realizing abundant life for all. The incarnation has imperative practical implications for homing and home-ing all things. It has ritualistic dimensions of perichoretic inter-dwelling and mutually bounded, entangled participation through maintaining the equilibrium of different vital natures (homes) without confusion, without division, and without separation in radical mutual homing. The incarnation reveals both the autonomous agency of God and creation. God is the eternal Home, the ultimate source of belonging, stability, flourishing and fulfillment within which creation finds its constant state of homing and home-ing reality. Therefore, Christ’s incarnation is paradigmatic for thinking of the home and homing as ongoing ubuntu-carnations. This way of thinking overcomes the exclusive separation between God’s home and God as the home. God lives in creation; creation lives in God. This should be understood within the Chalcedonian hypostatic principle. However, one may concede that the idea of mutual and mystical inter-dwelling, where God is the eternal Home and creation is a constant process of ‘homing/returning,’ resonates with the mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, particularly the idea of coincidentia oppositorum.

This also suggests that if we think of homing as an everyday activity of redeeming homes, God’s incarnational dwelling in them is an ongoing divine resistance against injustice and the destructive un-home-ing of homes. The divine resistance against un-home-ing is exemplified in the perennial incarnation as a gracious divine indwelling of and a being-indwelt by ontologically inhomables that define reality today. This functional ontological agapetic/agapeic indwelling suggests that God’s endless promise of love, faithfulness and justice will be fulfilled in the singular-plural inter-dwelling of difference. There is no individual or community, singular or plural, local or universal, only “we-who-are-not-the-same-but-the body-of-Christ-is-us-all-and-in-us-all.”12 The fullness of Christ is in me, and the fullness of all things that are in Christ, including me, is in me. “I am the totality of all that is and or in Christ—Christ-in-me-I-in-Christ-Christ-in-God-God-in-Christ-I-in-God-everything-in-Christ-I-in-everything-and-everything-in-me: Home-is-all, all-is-Home.” 

Thus, we can talk of the intra-home—a form of deep home-ing that can only be achieved through vital intersubjective homingparticipation. This is exemplified through the revelation of the incarnation of life in Christ (Home) — “becoming new humanity in Christ” (Eph. 2:15), “new creation in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17).  Deep homing/returning is a moral-political imagination or a kind of politics of planetary action embedded in an anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-patriarchy, in a post-anthropocentric and post-dualist critical vital solidarity grounded in the quest for everyday inter and intra-carnations of difference in which all lives matter. Indeed, the ongoing global consciousness of the polycrisis, the emergence of posthumanist thought, the awareness of the superhuman intelligent capacity of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the ongoing rediscovery of the eco-relationality or of the ecological liberation potential of indigenous philosophical systems have set into an irreversible motion a new cosmic vision of the future. This new vision, if it is not disorientated by equally emerging necropolitical or rather necrocosmic forces, is likely to give rise to new forms of co-homing and co-home-ing mutualisms embedded in the creation of deep civilizations of abundant life where humanity is but an aspect of an entangled web of flourishing creation in God, the ultimate Home of all things. It is in this sense that one can argue that Volf and McAnnally-Linz’s The Home of God, can help us construct meaningful theologies of God the Home of Abundance—as opposed to capitalist, lifeless human-centered homes of scarcity. 


  1. For the life of the world, Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun argue, “‘God’s home’ is the ultimate goal of human striving and the ultimate object of human rejoicing.” Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun, For the Life of the World: Theology that Makes a Difference (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2019), 9.

  2. Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2022), 1.

  3. Ibid., 1.

  4. Ibid., 14.

  5. Ibid., 15.

  6. Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977).

  7. Alenka Zupancic, “The Case of the Perforated Sheet,” In SIC 3: Sexuation, edited by Renata Salecl and Slavoj Žižek (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 282–96, 289.

  8. Nimi Wariboko, The Pentecostal Hypothesis: Christ Talks, They Decide (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2020), 86.

  9. Chammah J. Kaunda, ‘The Nation That Fears God Prospers’ (Philadelphia: Fortress, 2018).

  10. James K. A. Smith, “What hath Cambridge to do with Azusa Street? Radical Orthodoxy and Pentecostal Theology in Conversation,” Pneuma 25, no. 1 (2003): 97-114, 109. Italics as found.

  11. Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith (New York: Harper One/Harper Collins, 2009), 2–3.

  12. This way of thinking is inspired by Rosi Braidotti. See her Posthuman Knowledge (Cambridge, UK:  Polity Press, 2019).

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    Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

    Reply

    Reply to Chammah Kaunda

    We intended The Home of God to be an invitation for others to make the question and theme of home their own. Chammah Kaunda has graciously accepted that invitation and offered a thought-provoking brief rendering of his own theology of home. His essay has two main thrusts. First, he sketches in it an account of home from within the broad stream of African Pentecostalism and, more specifically, with appeal to concepts drawn from the thought of his own Bemba milieu. Second, he ties his reflection more explicitly than we have to specific features of a contemporary socio-cultural context, namely modern formations of knowledge, culture, and economics as they are known from “the underside of global modernity.”

    Given, on the one hand, the originality of Kaunda’s piece and, on the other, our own dolefully limited familiarity with its conceptual matrix, it seems to us that the best way forward may before us to pose questions back to Kaunda. We will take two main approaches to doing so. The first aims at establishing understanding—getting ourselves up to speed, more or less. Understanding in general requires the ad hoc identification of possible analogies between what one seeks to understand and one’s current patterns of thought and store of knowledge. (We are accepting a loosely Gadamerian account.) Accordingly, one thing we will do below is propose candidates for such analogies and pose the question to Kaunda of whether and to what extent they fit. The second approach moves from a hypothesized understanding of one or another of Kaunda’s ideas to pose critical questions that seek more precision for, or perhaps even revision of, Kaunda’s claims. 

    We take it that the driving idea of Kaunda’s theology of home is that “God (Kwa-Lesa) is Home itself and the spirituality/vital breath that animates all vital beings and nonbeings.” Theologians writing in different times and places from Kaunda and us have not uncommonly declared, suggested, or hinted that God is our home. In the theological traditions we are most versed in, this idea usually occurs within a Platonist-influenced theological frame. Its advocates often also imply that the Earth (or even material creation in general) is not our home. Kaunda’s strong emphasis on the nested array of homes, which includes the Earth, human communities, and the particular homes symbolized by the maternal womb, suggests that he would oppose this corollary. That said, from the vantage point of our particular theological formations, Kaunda’s language of creatures “refracting” and “manifesting” “the one Home—God,” does resonate with those Platonic theologies that emphasize creatures’ participation in God as that which gives them their being and their various characteristic goods. We wonder whether Kaunda would recognize this resonance—is he saying something somewhat like what a Pseudo-Dionysius or Bonaventure says on these subjects?—and, if so, what he would make of it. Specifically, where, if anywhere, would Kaunda’s Bemba theological conceptuality correct a Christian Platonist metaphysic of participation? 

    Ritual plays an interesting but to us somewhat enigmatic role in Kaunda’s sketch of his metaphysics of home. He writes of “vital homes (being and nonbeings)” as “a kind of functional ritual material exemplification of some aspects of the Divine Home” (emphasis added). What is it that makes ritual a fruitful category for articulating how created homes related to God-the-Home?

    Kaunda slides easily throughout his essay between the concepts of “home” and “womb.” Indeed, at points he seems to flatly equate them. Is “womb” for Kaunda coterminous with home? Tightly analogous? We are somewhat skeptical. The analogy seems rather limited. Insofar as homes can be places of profound personal formation, they may have certain matricular aspects. But it seems to us that most any home is always more than only a place of formation. Habitation is more enduring than gestation. There is a different relation to place and other beings in dwelling than in gestating. This may be a point of misunderstanding on our part, or it may be a significant disagreement.

    Another question of clarification. What does Kaunda mean when claiming that “liminality is the condition of the home”? There is at least paradox in characterizing home by means of the limen, a term for precisely that boundary which demarcates the home from the outside and thus stands between the two. Is the idea that home is always in the process of becoming, never statically realized and thus never entirely “inside” itself? Does the “liminality” of home mark the observation that home is always a matter of “home-ing”? 

    Finally, a question about abundance and scarcity. Kaunda opposes “theologies of the Home of Abundance” and “capitalist, lifeless human-centered homes of scarcity.” In our discussion of abundance in the Gospel of John, we have suggested that the key question is abundance of what? If the home of God (or, in Kaunda’s proposal, the home that is God) undergirds an account of abundance isomorphic with the abundance promised by unnuanced capitalist ideology, then it will contribute to the destruction of home. It will produce, to use our neologism, dysoikoi. This is because some features of our common earthly home are quite evidently limited and thus prone to be “scarce” from any perspective that sees abundance as a matter of unlimited availability. What form of abundance does Kaunda’s Bemba Pentecostal theology of home suggest, and how would it modulate, destabilize, or overthrow understandings of abundance that are among the “common senses” of our day that are so often shown to be not-so-sensical when seen from “the underside of global modernity”?  

Brad East

Response

April 18, 2024, 1:00 am

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