Posted by: rogermitchell | February 12, 2014

love that substantiates a new humanity

It’s high time that I concluded this set of posts on the authority of love!
As sometimes happens I’ve been waylaid by other writing deadlines and also this time by working with the ace bunch of students who are currently tackling the Richardson Institute for Peace Studies distance learning module in Political Theology for Peace. If any of you clickers and surfers are interested in registering for this module in 2014/15 please let me know. I am now working on a second module on Politics of Love in Places of Conflict that I hope will also be up and running in 2014/15. Use the comment box below if you are interested in either of them.

One of the writing deadlines was a sudden opportunity to contribute a chapter to a book considering the nature of kenotic authority with a view to providing resources for the ongoing reform of the Roman Catholic Magisterium – an opportunity too exciting to miss! The book should be out over the next few months. Watch this space for more information. The former posts on the authority of love provided good resources to work on for that book, so thank you, all of you, that contributed to the discussion. This post is adapted from what became the final section of that chapter and makes the following three basic points:

1. By displaying the authority of love in a human being, the incarnation of Jesus not only reveals the divine nature, it restores the image of God back into human nature. This is of course, in part, a recovery of what Christians believe that God did when he created humankind in his image in the first place. But it goes far beyond that. Now a human being is in the heart of divinity for ever, and a divine human is substantiated in the heart of human history. Let no-one say that the incarnation didn’t change things! If it happened, then God and humanity are for ever changed! The theologian Thomas Torrance speaks of this in terms of the vicarious humanity of Christ (See Incarnation. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic 2008, 125ff). That is to say that Jesus lived the life of a human being in the fullness of the divine nature, and did it on our behalf so that his life would be available as a resource for any human who desired it.

2. In order to substantiate this new humanity, it was necessary for Jesus to take on all that stood in the way of the authority of love. Undoing empire, disarming the powers, empowering the powerless, as the previous three posts have articulated, are all necessary to demonstrate the authority of love. It is because empire ultimately identifies and kills those who oppose it that the power of death has to be overcome for the authority of love to be demonstrated. Similarly, the powers are the powers of death, and the powerless are the raw material of a system that ultimately eats them up. So in order to manifest the authority of love, love has to be stronger than death.

3. The authority of love is life laid down in love for one’s enemies, to the point of death itself. The new humanity is defined by this characteristic. The gospel narratives continually emphasise Jesus’ repeated statements about needing to go to Jerusalem and be crucified and slain, and rise again on the third day. The disciples, with their sovereignty understanding of power, simply did not understand this. Even post-resurrection, as Luke describes in his account of the incident on the Road to Emmaus, this prevented them from recognising who Jesus is. When they had grasped it then Luke quotes Jesus linking his death for his enemies and the subsequent resurrection to the promised authority carried by his message of forgiveness to the nations. The writer of John’s gospel makes this clear when he explains the time qualification to Jesus’ description of the coming of the Spirit: “But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified”( John 7: 39.)

From the believers’ point of view this is the real substance of the uniqueness of Jesus, and the reason that it needs to be included in political discussions in the public forum. In articulating this I wish to underline that I am not making an exclusive claim that says only Christians can love their enemies. What I am doing here is focusing on a significant resource for positive peace. If we can find it elsewhere, great. But here is an extraordinary articulation of it from the heart of a tradition that something like a third of the world’s population embrace. It is not a matter of excluding the others, but activating the displaced heritage of this multitude on behalf of the rest.



  1. I think your ‘in order to manifest the authority of love, love has to be stronger than death’ is absolutely key. I think this is what the early church fathers were seeking to express in the Christus Victor approach to the atonement. Once we move away from ‘power of God is stronger than the power of the devil so God overcomes’ to what you are expressing as the authority of love overcoming empire/world/devil I think it becomes essential to move the penal view of the atonement from the centre to the periphery. Just a thought.

    On a similar note I read that there is a shift in theology whenever there is a shift in culture. The author then asked a question: is theology culturally shaped and that is all there is to the shifts, or does God speak a new language when the culture changes. That opens up many wonderful hermeneutical windows.

    • Thanks for the wisdom Martin. I think the assumption that God’s being all-powerful would somehow equate with him being righteousness is a common mistake. He could be all-powerful and bad! So his having more power than the devil or evil humans could be very worrying, unless we had evidence that he is good. This is exactly my problem with appeasement theories of the cross. They appear to be evidence of God’s bad character.
      I like your point “it becomes essential to move the penal view of the atonement from the centre to the periphery.” My only further comment here is that I’m still not really happy with the Christus Victor view of the atonement either, precisely because I’m not sure that it adequately distinguishes the power of sovereignty and the power of love. I am now at the stage that I think we need to move all four of the current evangelical views of the atonement to the periphery, so including those termed healing and kaleidoscopic views in James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy ed. The Nature of the atonement: Four Views (IVP Academic 2006). I think they are all essentially sovereignty based, rather than kenosis based. I’ve begun to develop this in terms of the heart of kenarchy, drawing on Girard, Weil, Torrance and Volf in what will be the first chapter of Discovering Kenarchy, alongside your eschatology chapter. I’ve also submitted a paper on this to the forthcoming Missio Dei: Evangelicalism and the New Politics event at Chester University in June.
      Thanks again!


    see pages 31, 50 and 211 in Atonement: the person and work of Christ (IVP – editor Robert T. Walker) for a ‘critique’ of the Christus Victor model of the atonement.

  3. How sad and perverse it is that so much of the church not only embraces but actively advances empire and the imperial spirit. Makes me wonder where we would all be today as a species if the leadership had chosen differently so long ago. That history also demonstrates how difficult it is for all of us to truly lay down our lives and choose to follow Jesus. It is a demanding kind of life. c.

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