More on Apocalyptic Gospel


I posted some thoughts inspired by Fleming Rutledge’s article calling for the recognition of a school of theological thought that she named “Apocalyptic”. The key characteristic of which, in my thinking, is that the event of the Triduum, both historic and ongoing, is the fundamental revelation of God to the world.

Ben Myers, using Rutlege’s term but in a slightly different way, gave a paper recently on Louis Martyn’s commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. In Myer’s paper he describes Martyn’s view of the Gospel (the Triddum in my place-holder term):

“The gospel is betrayed if one speaks about it ‘solely in terms of the once-upon-a-time’. Instead, Paul’s theme is ‘the activity of God then and now’; his one question is: ‘What was God doing in Jerusalem that is revealing as to what God is doing now in Galatia?’ Again, the contemporaneity of God’s action is not a mere application of an event that belongs essentially to the past. God is unceasingly active through the apocalypse of the gospel announcement: ‘for Paul, the history of the gospel is what it is because the God who acted in it is the God who is now acting in it’. The saving event happens in the word of the gospel. The proclamation of Christ’s ‘there and then’ is itself the mode of Christ’s redemptive presence ‘here and now’.”

Read the full article here.

I’m very drawn to this idea of a dual historical and ahistorical quality (ala Bultman) to the nature of God’s saving action in Jesus. It’s a fundamental part of what we do in Church whenever we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. We reconnect (re-present ala Dix I guess) to the fundamental action of Jesus in Jerusalem.

I should probably say that I’m searching for a better term to describe what I mean when I use the term Triduum. I choose that term because it broadens the idea of the Cross (which Paul tends to use) to the full events of Cross, Death and Resurrection. It’s important to me to include all three, especially the middle one. I guess that’s because I’m so influenced by Von Balthasar’s thinking on the meaning of Jesus’ death. And I think we can’t put either the cross or the death into proper perspective if we don’t include the bursting forth of the resurrection.

Any suggestions on a better term than Triduum?

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. It’s a little awkward, but I like to speak of Jesus’s Passion as it relates to the Passover as the “Pass-thru”. Unlike in Egypt, when God passed over the Israelites so that they did not suffer, Jesus passed through the worst that sin and death can do, and came out. Since he did so as a human being, so can we.
    As for Apocalyptic theology, this reminds me of my favorite prayer in the BCP: “Be present, be present, O Jesus, our great High Priest, as you were present with your disciples, and be know to us in the breaking of bread; who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.” I pray that with the altar party before every Eucharist.
    That prayer was first written for the Church of South India. And in their liturgy, it is said by the Priest and congregation before the Sursum Corda. I wish we Episcopalians could use that prayer as part of our public worship, rather than as a private devotion, which our Prayer Book limits it to.

  2. What, the Incarnation isn’t one of the great acts of God’s reality busting forth into human experience?
    Martyn’s use of the term, of course, predates Rutledge and is itself highly dependent upon the work of Ernst Kasemann. His essays “The Beginnings of Christian Theology” and “On the Subject of Primitive Christian Apocalyptic” from the 1969 ET New Testament Questions of Today were hugely influential.
    And yes, what you’re talking about here is simply theology as I understand it. I could care less about what happened to some dude 200 years ago–no matter how nice of a guy he was–if it fails to have an impact on the present.
    Some of our best liturgical moments, in fact, focus upon this. I like to point in particular to the Exultet because of its deliberate collapsing of categories of time. Not “an important thing happened a long time ago” but rather “*This is* the night…”

  3. Well, in Rutlege’s defense, she lists Kasemann as one of the progenitors of her “school”. And Kasemann was influential on one of my favorite professors at Yale (Susan Garrett), so it’s not surprising that I’m falling happily into such a circle.
    I totally agree that this idea is totally contained within the liturgies of the 79 prayer book. Dix suggested the same sort of thing in his Eucharistic theology (didn’t he?) and the prayer book revision architects from 79 that I’ve talked with drank deeply from that well. Plus it’s a very Eastern Orthodox idea.
    As to the Incarnation – I’m thinking at the moment that the Incarnation can only be understood teleologically in terms of the Triduum. The Incarnation in of itself is no longer enough for me.
    When we focus on the Incarnation alone, we end up seeing a world that is not in need of transformation – and the older I get, the less I can countenance such an idea. I work with too many urban poor and despair of ever making the sorts of systematic changes we need to make to not believe it’s going to take something outside of our Universe to drive the change we need to make in the Incarnate world we have.
    (Which isn’t a criticism of your post Derek, just a subsidiary rant of my own.)

  4. Actually following up on my own post…
    I’m leading a class for a group of folks in Phoenix who are ordained in other traditions who are seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church. I asked them last week to give me their “elevator presentation” of the gospel.
    Mine would be, following what is above, “God definitively entered the world in the person of Jesus, was murdered by the religious and secular authorities with our complicity and died. God burst forth from death and is now radically transforming us and the whole world into something brand new, just and loving.”

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