Posted by: rogermitchell | January 4, 2013

a new humanity

The apostle Paul looked forward to a new humanity. This was both the mystery and the motivation of his life and the expected fulness of his good news. He saw this new humanity as the coming together of his own people and the rest of humankind in an inclusive egalitarian embrace. As he put it “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:13-18)

Such is the attraction of his expectation, that right now, at a point that many regard as the fading post-Christian end of Western thought, it is to Paul that many contemporary thinkers are returning.
As Simon Critchley puts it in his book The Faith of the Faithless, citing other writers such as Jacob Taubes, Giorgio Agamben and Alain Badiou, “Paul’s political theology has been employed negatively as a critique of empire and positively as a means of finding new figures of activism and militancy based around a universalistic claim to equality.”

It is my conviction that this political theology of Paul’s, that is proving so relevant today in our post-Christendom world, is utterly rooted in the good news of the incarnation.
It is my belief that this resurgence of interest in Paul is more than a merely nostalgic recourse to a past radicalism but evidence of the culmination of three generations of Holy Spirit manifestations of egalitarian transcendence. Further, that despite the tendency of a fallen church to appropriate these immanent expressions of the divine as the means to revive a necessarily dying structure and theology, the immanent presence of God has the capacity to resource a coming generation of egalitarian activism.

To sum up, I believe this return to Paul’s work beyond the walls of the church is good reason to expect a whole variety of eschatological expressions of the new humanity for which Paul looked. All of which makes 2013 quite a time to be alive!


  1. Bob on Roger!

  2. So I’ve been thinking about a new humanity recently, most importantly, how we relate to other species. A bit of research caught my eye. The headline was about how the way we treat other animals is reflected in how we treat other people. It was dealing with racism specifically. I won’t go into how the research was done but it seems that if a person understands there to be a huge gult between superior humans and inferior beasties then they tend to treat both other people (other as in not my type of human or not human at all) and animals badly. Other humans of different races, gender, sexual orientation, even income level or culture and ethnicity are seen to be as animals and therefore at a great distance from the superior human.

    That certainly calls to mind the theology that many cultural christians and church goers carry about, presumably rooted in Genesis, that gives humans a position just a teeny, tiny, bit below God and animals a position just a teeny, tiny bit above fish and insects or other creepy crawlies. Such a theology that privileges white males (with their accompanying chosen consorts of lovely, white women) might be connected to all manner of nasty attitudes towards women (the unlovely, or unchosen, or other races and sexual orientation), and other races (the unwhite) and of course towards the beasties of the field and other places. It might have inspired all the theological ruminations that justified and validated colonialization and slavery among other things.

    But what to do? Seems if people lower themselves to the level of others as in, I’m just an animal too. Then attitudes don’t change and things don’t improve. Funny eh. The shift comes when others, including animals are elevated in one’s thinking and beliefs. Then the superior human tends to treat animals well (as equals) and other humans as well (as equals).

    In other words, to put this within your theological context Roger – when those who regard themselves as superior because God made them so, extend kenarchic love to others and raise them up, conditions improve for all. Nice eh. Something to ponder as we examine the new humanity and its political implications. Just thinking out loud here again.

  3. I agree that there is fresh, brilliant light to be seen in Paul’s writings, once some deep cultural biases and institutional predispositions are exposed and expulsed! Your comments, Roger, remind me of the wonderful ‘Colossians Remixed – Subverting the Empire ‘(Walsh & Keesmaat) that did the rounds a few years back: the title kind of says it all!

    And while I’m on relevant books, and noting Cheryl’s recent comments, Noel Moules’ recent book has some wonderful insights on the idea of ‘wild nature’ and our place within Creation, rather than over it. In fact much of what Noel writes, though sometimes controversial, does echo many of the ideas of kenarchy, and his book has to be one of the best handbooks on how to live in today’s world that I’ve read in a long, long time. (‘Fingerprints of Fire, Footprints of Peace: a spiritual manifesto from a Jesus perspective’: Circle Books, 2012 ).

  4. Thanks for this Phil, and also the recommendation for Noel Moules’ new book. I have it in front of me but haven’t had time to begin it yet! There’s a lot of deadlines to complete right now, what with undergrad “Introduction to Christianity” lectures starting next week, the Kenarchy Course, my work with the Richardson Institute, and the publication deadline for “The Fall of the Church” in mid March. But I’m hoping to put aside a section of time for more research in the Spring/ early Summer before embarking on “Discovering Kenarchy,” and Noel’s book will be on the top of the list then!

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