Posted by: rogermitchell | May 24, 2014

probing questions from the kenarchy perspective

Q1 What to do with the passages where Jesus says things that don’t sound or seem consistent with kenarchy?

opportunities to deepen and expand our understanding of kenarchy
Kenarchy expresses an attempt to find a new word for the kingdom of God without the baggage of Christendom, or in theological terms, free from subsumption of transcendence by sovereign power. So in responding to Hardy’s questions from the previous post, I will not be defending the conclusion that kenarchy epitomises the teaching and example of Jesus in the gospel narratives, or that Jesus’ message was counter to the Roman imperial construct of peace through sovereign power. This is the heart of my thesis and I have defended it elsewhere (see for example Church, Gospel and Empire: How the politics of Sovereignty Impregnated the West. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2011, particularly Ch 7.) So the question I address to the statements from the testimony of Jesus that Hardy identifies is ‘how do they expand our understanding of kenarchy?’ This positions such comparatively rare and potentially ‘problematic’ passages or seeming aporias as opportunities to deepen and expand our understanding of kenarchy.

kenarchy encompasses both good and evil ‘otherness’ with love
In his correspondence Hardy cites Matthew 13:40-42: “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the culmination of the age. The Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will gather from his Kingdom every cause of sin and all who do evil, and they will cast them into the furnace of fire. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…” So taking note of the wider context of Matthew’s narrative, we notice that there is real evil and an actual devil (vv38-39), something that I contend is central to the testimony of Jesus. These statements of Jesus are a reminder of this. That is to say, from the point of view of kenarchy, to love my enemy is not to suggest that he is not my enemy, but that love is the only way to relate to her or him, or overcome the real evil that she or he might represent. Of course not all apparent enemies are evil, and the “other” is a crucial and necessary category of love, discovery and growth. But kenarchy encompasses both good and evil otherness with love, and therefore such love includes the enemy in its focus and operation.

kenarchy meets the devil and all our enemies with life laying down loving, not violence
In my contribution to Discovering Kenarchy (Wipf and Stock, 2014, forthcoming) I point out the way that Jesus deals with the devil in the temptations. There is no inconsistency here, for Jesus does not use violence against the devil but engages in conversation with him, having deliberately gone out to meet him (Lk 4: 4-13). What draws the devil and everything else to the cross is Jesus’ life-laying-down, kenotic love. The cross is not God’s violence against sin and evil, rather it is God’s embrace of every form of human and satanic evil and violence against both divinity and humanity. In the light of this, the incarnation is the climactic demonstration that kenarchy meets the devil and all our enemies with love, not violence. Hence the inclusion of things that cause sin and those who do evil in the kingdom of God (v41 above). So what is the implication of “cast them into the furnace of fire” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth?” Rather than some default to the retribution and vengeance at the heart of sovereign power, this is the profound reality that I was trying to configure in Hardy’s “zinger,” in the previous post, in which I stated “To put it another way, the cross is a gateway into a cosmic cesspit, or in Jesus’ terms a Gehenna.”

the furnace, the weeping, the gnashing of teeth is the conjunction of unconditional, forever, kenotic love and implacable, selfish autonomy
I have never been an advocate of universalism, although I have no hesitation in stating that love is as universalist as possible. But I don’t see how love and universalism can possibly fit together, because love cannot be forced. Otherwise it is rape. Kenarchy in no way suggests that love for the other, for God, or for my enemy is obligatory for those who do not want it. How could it be without it being domination and sovereignty all over again? So the point at which “every cause of sin and all who do evil” encounters the unconditional, unstoppable, life-laying-down love of God is the climax of the cross. Of course there is weeping and gnashing of teeth at that point, how could it be otherwise, but the greatest weeping and gnashing is on the part of the one who loves. Those who weep and gnash in utter frustration and fury need to be contained in the weeping and gnashing of the unstoppable love at the heart reality. The furnace, the weeping, the gnashing of teeth, are the conjunction of unconditional, forever, kenotic love and the implacable, selfish autonomy that sin, evil and Satan represent. This is what I am referring to as a cosmic cesspit, or in Jesus’ terms a Gehenna, which the cross is the entrance to. The Psalmist puts it clearly “where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold you are there” (Psalm 139:8 KJV). Seen from this perspective, God does not flee violence and evil, God confronts it with love, carrying the pain of it in the vault of love in the heart of divinity. The good news is that in partnership with him humans can access this for one another.


  1. Not sure I got all of this!

    The biggest problem here is surely the dualism. How does “all who do evil” relate to “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”? Which of us has not ‘done evil’? How then is this binary formed between those who will be gathered and burned and those who will not? This is, as constructed in the text, suspiciously naive and impractical.

    Secondly the text has a clear introduction of a boundary-confirming, exclusionary kind of deus ex machina whereby the angels swoop in to find the baddies and sin-bin them. This too is a little cartoonish and, more worryingly, invokes a kind of cosmic state of exception.

    I’m afraid this passage remains for me a-kenotic and a little bit like Matthew is up to his sovereigntist glossing again… Unless you reckon this is strictly apocalyptic and the causes of sin and “all who do evil” are purely spiritual agents?

    • Hi Stephen,
      I am attempting to treat this more inclusively than you indicate. So thanks for the comment, because it highlights my at best only partial success in achieving the point! I don’t see any ontological dualism here, and see no reason from distinguishing “all who do evil” from myself or anyone else. I don’t regard the final embrace of all who do evil any differently from God’s kenotic embrace of us all at the cross. If Jesus is fully revealing the Father by his kenotic behaviour, then his words cannot refer to a future post-incarnational point where God reverts to a sovereignty approach.

      It is precisely because I see the cross as the ultimate state of exception where love for one’s enemy to the point of one’s own suffering and death trumps the sovereign exception, that I’m able to rework the sin-bin terminology into a more positive image. From this point of view the finality invoked by the apocalyptic terminology of the story helps us deal with the pain and pressure of real situations where we are called on to love an enemy who appears to be implacably evil, whether or not they actually are, but might really be.

      Of course, as Hardy rightly raises, points like these bring us on to the question of our approach to scripture and I will get to that in a subsequent post.

      • Thanks! I figured your take must be broadly along those lines. My issue, of course, was with the text and your final point about its interpretation is key. Your ultimate answer to Hardy, I suspect, is that we must reinterpret it with a hermeneutic of love (including a serious effort to love the text). The question, then, is whether the rehabilitation of certain passages is fully possible or even helpful. In this case, I really rather wish Matthew hadn’t written in these terms which, without substantial re-engineering, are really unhelpful by way of understanding the love of God. It is pretty easy to know what to do with horrid passages in the OT but a much bigger challenge when the text of the incarnation might, at times, contain only a trace of the Word.

  2. Your last sentence pretty much sums up the challenge. The result is likely to be a pretty delicate piece of engineering (to use your word). I will be trying to configure a standpoint that expresses my desire to stand in a circle of overlaps with those whose journey has come from a conservative position on the Christian scriptures, and those whose journeys to kenarchy have brought them, consciously or unconsciously, to Jesus, either in reaction to such a position or from other directions all together. By definition therefore it will be an inclusive approach!

    • There’s an interesting project here for someone/people to do a kind of (provisional) kenarchic ‘commentary’ on the Gospels…

  3. I agree, and lots of other important things too. That’s why I’m looking forward to developing an informal trans-local research community around these themes. May be we can prioritise and divvy out some work based on folks interests, skills and time capacity when we meet in June.
    By the way, anyone reading this who is interested in being part of such a connectivity please let us know.

  4. Thanks Roger, some really good stuff here. And you can’t go wrong with your clearly stated opening humble desire to see and embrace ‘opportunities to deepen and expand our understanding of kenarchy.’ While it is quite an awesome thought to think that those doing the loving will have the most intense weeping and knashing of teeth because loving hurts that much (first time I ever heard that in this context, and it’s beautiful!) it just doesn’t seem like the most natural interpretation of Jesus words here. Is it possible that Jesus in his early ministry simply had the mindset of an apocalyptic prophet, just like the forefunner John the Baptist, and that like all the rest of us He had to shake loose of the dualisms, pessimisms, vindications and an imminent judgement world view and had to learn and grow until he ‘became the source of eternal salvation’ (Hebrews 5:9). Like you mentioned earlier Roger, something about letting God grow? Can we make allowance for Jesus also growing past dualisms etc. to the place of expresssions like ‘Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.’ Does the entire life of Jesus have to reflect the fully mature and functioning kenarchic way? I resonate with Stephen’s responses.

    • A couple of typos, that would be ‘gnashing’ and ‘forerunner’ not ‘forefunner’

    • I have no problem whatsoever with the idea that Jesus is growing in maturity and that this is reflected in the gospel narratives. Indeed, given that we are in the image of God, and that Jesus is fulfilling that image, it would be peculiar if the incarnation did not reveal a maturing God. Then, as Stephen reminds us in his earlier comment, we have to contend with the interpretative perspective of the hopefully maturing narrator too! What we are coming to here is the need for a hermeneutic and exegesis that has an incarnational, kenotic approach to truth, not a a dominating, exclusive approach. More of this in a later post…

  5. I’m feeling increasing freedom to just let the text reveal what ever light, insight, truth, understanding, or level of maturity that it does. No need to ‘rehabilitate’ it. In such an innocent and transparent way Scripture exposes the slow painful journey of growth and maturity concerning so many issues…. misogyny, slavery etc. Why would it be any different on matters pertaining to kenarchy? If canonization has in any way limited or shut out the process of further revelation and growth then canonization has overstepped its purpose and usefulness. For most of my life I feel I have put a burden on Scripture to be something that it was never meant to be. Just wanting Scripture to have its proper place – that’s my heartfelt desire and prayer.

  6. So, the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth occurs when kenotic love meets the sin and resistance. That’s an interesting point as it means when we see love denied or evil done by ourselves, we should then see a right response that expresses extreme frustration for the situation. That response becomes an aspect of the process of repentance. First we become frustrated with our own sin as we realize the distance between it and God’s love, then we repent and give up the frustration that causes so much discomfort. Without that response we may never get to real repentance.

    For me that brings up two issues. First, when it comes to care for creation and care for others (ie. social justice which is connected to care for creation) we who call ourselves christians or who believe we choose kenotic love should experience lots of frustration, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth because of our failure to truly love. The world should see that process in us that would hopefully lead to repentance and a changed way of living. Second, I foresee much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth as we move forward in dealing with both of these issues in terms of climate change. How many of us are going to end up on those sad piles of dirt weeping and wailing our grief over the sin of mountaintop removal for coal, or gnashing our teeth at the loss of coral reefs in the acidic oceans, or lay weeping on drought stricken, no longer productive farmland? Perhaps that will be the sign of change needed before we can be released into a new and right relationship with creation.

    I’ve long been frustrated with the lack of repentance within the church concerning creation care. So often when sin and evil is pointed out there appears to be a defiant attitude or even a nonchalant lack of concern. I’ve longed for a wave of repentance to move through the church to soften the hard and stiff necks. Equally, I am often led to a gnashing of teeth and worse, of deep grieving when I think on how we have destroyed all that is lovely and productive of the earth around us. I recently attended a global meeting on resiliency for cities. There the increased urbanization along with urban poverty met up with climate change and increased crises, disasters and agricultural failure. I met many dedicated, hard working people who seek to mitigate the effects of climate change on cities (and the poor especially). And yes, though pleased by so much of what I saw I was also led to weep and wail and gnash my teeth over the situation. We are held hostage by those who are very, very powerful and rich to an economy that constrains us to overuse of fossil fuels (of all types) while increasing inequality. Surely that situation should lead all of us to great grieving even as we work to make change.

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