Editorial

By Rashkover, Randi | Cross Currents, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Editorial


Rashkover, Randi, Cross Currents


Ever since Moral Man and Immoral Society, American religious thought has, consciously or not, lived in the shadow of Reinhold Niebuhr's pessimistic assessment of the transformative impact of religious life on secular culture. No doubt there are good reasons for our having assumed Niebuhr's assessment of the limits of our religious resources. Neither, Niebuhr held, the exercise of human reason nor the exercise of religious self-transcendence are sufficient to offset the dominance of self-interest. American life, its public discourse and culture offer more than sufficient verification of Niebuhr's anthropology.

What then are we left with? Must believers (and non-believers) simply nod at the so called realism of Neibuhr's claim that "the full force of religious faith will never be available for building the just society ... To the sensitive spirit, society must always remain something of the jungle ..." Undoubtedly, like Luther, Niebuhr would have maintained that sober pessimism regarding the human condition concomitantly points to our need and hope for the outpouring of grace that God has initiated through the revelation of Christ. Still, theological reflection on God's grace remains paralyzed and unable to penetratingly change surrounding culture.

Despite its influence, Niebuhr's account has not been left unchallenged. Of great note, John Howard Yoder's politics of hope inspired a sustained trajectory of contemporary Christian effort to re-articulate the authentic relationship between Christianity and culture. Yet, for all of its scriptural integrity and its parallel ability to identify the political character of the eucharistic life, Yoder's politics of hope neglects a full Christological account--that is, it remains theologically underwritten. For a theological grounding of a politics of hope we may turn to Karl Barth on the one hand and Franz Rosenzweig on the other. While clearly indebted to different traditions, both Barth and Rosenzweig held that covenantal life demands transformative participation in all spheres of culture. However, Barth and Rosenzweig also maintained that not only can covenantal life express itself culturally; covenantal life commands one to bring one's religious posture to bear on culture. Covenantal life requires transformative participation in and of culture as the obedient response to what is not only God's out-pouring of love but authoritative command to love him in return.

For both Barth and Rosenzweig, the covenantal encounter with an unconditionally loving and commanding God renders persons unable not to attend to the divine presence. Standing before either the God of Sinai or the God of Golgotha I cannot help but recognize and testify to God's power and God's love. I cannot choose when I am seized by God and when I am not. …

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