Agape and the Long Defeat – George Hunsinger

Saturday’s first plenary was delivered by George Hunsinger. He is the McCord Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. He earned his degrees at Stanford, Harvard, and Yale. He is most noted for being a leading expert on Karl Barth. His paper brought together two, (to my knowledge) conversation partners that have never been brought together, namely Tolkien and Barth.

Introduction

  • Tolkien as “author of the century”
  • Like Tolkien, Barth can be considered “century’s greatest theologian”
  • Little work has been done to compare the two
  • 1st – how Barth understands agape, 2nd – meaning of evil, 3- eschatology of agape

barth

Meaning of Agape

  • Not benevolence, beneficence, compassion
  • Agape has these but adds – a desire to give oneself, union w/other, self giving for the sake of koinonia
  • Summary of Agape
    • God’s loving is concerned w/a seeking and creation of fellowship for its own sake by loving us in JC – God take us up into fellowship/communion that God enjoys as Holy Trinity
    • God’s loving us is concerned is w/o reference to aptitude or worthiness of the object of love. God’s agape is not conditioned by any prior reciprocity of love. God doesn’t love us b/c we are lovable, lovable because he loves us.
    • God’s loving is an end in itself. God doesn’t even will his own glory for his own sake, but for the sake of his agape. God loves b/c he loves. His agape is the supreme end which includes all other ends in itself.
    • God’s agape is necessary. It belongs to him primordially and by definition. Its eternal as God is eternal in his triune life.

The Mystery of Evil in Barth and Tolkien

  • Convergences exist in their depiction of evil. See Barth and Nothingness vs. Witch King of Angmar – the Lord of the Nazgul
  • Nothingness – act of cosmic power, destruction, chaos, ruin. Its inexplicable, can’t be explained only described. Origin is obscure, but effects are not. The impossible possibility. Actual yet empty at the same time. God did not create it. God defeats it at great cost to himself. No right to exist, serves no greater good. Not means to some higher end.
    • The answer to the problem of evil is not an argument but a name
  • Tolkien’s Lord of the Nazgul captures something of Barth’s Nothingness.
    • Conflicted and absurd, actual and empty simultaneously,
    • Good symbol of Barth’s impossible possibility
    • Image for the paradox of evil, powerful yet hollow at the same time.

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Eschatology of Agape

  • Tolkien writes w/ idea that evil must be fought w/knowledge that we cannot ultimately defeat evil. “We have fought the long defeat.” No victory is complete, evil rises again, even victory brings loss. But the long defeat is not the last word.
    • There can be no true theology of glory divorced from the theology of the cross.
    • For Paul agape cannot be divorced from longsuffering
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