Coda on the Kingdom: Beginning at the Ending with Weiss' Eschatology
Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom by Johannes Weiss. Ed. R. Hiers & L. Holland (Fortress, 1971).
In his conclusion, Weiss conveniently sumarizes his findings (pp. 129-131).
|Johannes Weiss, with a child (Heidelberg, 1914)|
(Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Weiss' conception of the apocalyptic kergyma of the historical Jesus was incongruous with the ruling paradigm of the liberal Protestant world. Forged in the interface between Scheleiermacher's pietism and Kant's ethical idealism, theologians in the school of Albrecht Ritschl (who happened to be Weiss' faither-in-law), conceived the Kingdom as a commonwealth of peace and justice ensuing from the inner personal transformatoin of believers. The Kingdom of the great liberal heritage was seen and an ideal and project that humans would realize in this world, whereas Weiss presented Jesus' original preaching as imbued with ineluctable mystery, cataclysmic supernatural and natural events and absolute divine transcendent sovereignty.
Curiously, although he broke from the regnant interpretation of Christian origins, Weiss maintained his liberal, Ritschlian credentials in the realm of constructive theology. The end result is fairly negative, at least in terms of the normativity of Jesus' messianic consciousness and guiding worldview: Jesus' Kingdom vision, in the setting of its ancient worldview, cannot be retrieved -- at least not directly. The modern believer inevitably must need part with the Savior over the meaning of the Kingdom. The modern Protestant worldview cannot accommodate the eschatology of primitive Christianity:
We no longer pray, "May grace come and the world pass away," but we pass our lives in the joyful confidence that this world will evermore become the showplace of the people of God" (p. 135).
Eschatology becomes personalized, for Weiss, and the apocalypse is transposed into an expectation (or hope) for unending life beyond this world.
The world will further endure, but we, as individuals, will soon leave it. Thereby, we will at least approximate Jesus' attitude in a different sense, is we make the basis of our life the precept spoken by a wise man or our day: "Live as if you were dying" (p. 136).
Thus, Weiss, argues, we may no longer hope for a kingdom that brings a literal and dramatic close to this present evil age, but we can hope to be united in love with the faithful throughout eternity.
Unsurprisingly, Weiss' conclusions did not prove satisfying for everyone. It became apparent (to some thinkers) that he had not gone far enough. Albert Schweitzer, himself also cut from the cloth of Kantian idealism, stressed the discontinuties between Jesus and the liberal theologians in even more striking terms. Some would offer an even more radical critique and retrieval of eschatology -- a view that perserved the alterity of divine transcendence while refusing to historicize eschatology in terms of concrete, literal, supernatural events. Thus the "theology of crisis was" born, and the dead end posited by Weiss became, for some, the occasion for a new beginning.