My General Critiques/Conclusions about Käsemann

Käsemann’s work is compelling because it attempts to bring several areas of Paul’s thought into a cohesive whole. He combines justification and sanctification, Spirit and Christ, lordship and grace, individual and community. Overall, I think his work provides a good framework for understanding Paul. A critique may be that it tries too hard to find coherence in so many disparate aspects of Paul and to find them in one center.

Käsemann’s interpretation of Paul’s background is lacking. I found it interesting that he had Paul inheriting a mystery religion form of the sacraments. This would indicate a very early incorporation of Hellenistic ideals in the church that seems too early. Also, the syncretistic mix of the Stoic organism, Jewish corporate personality, and Hellenistic Anthropos myth, does not seem rigorously explained. Paul, no doubt, was influenced by both Jewish and Hellenistic worldviews, and it is difficult to separate these. However, it seems a little too easy to have these all thrown into one pot and mixed together to form his theology. The strength of his understanding of background issues is revealed when he can change the core insight without it making a large difference on his interpretation.

Käsemann tries to balance the individual versus the corporate and apocalyptic, but I was left with the feeling that the individual point of view was lacking. There are two aspects to my conclusion. First, I think Käsemann overstates the case that being in Christ is the same as being a member in his body the church. A strong relationship between these two concepts certainly exists, but to make them virtually synonymous takes the relationship too far. This places too much emphasis on the corporate nature of Paul’s language to the detriment to the individual experience of Christ. Second, I think understanding of the believer under the lordship of Christ is a helpful model for understanding Paul, but as mentioned before it was not clear to me how this ontologically affects the individual. Käsemann has something in mind that attempts to balance between two poles of forensic and ethical/mystical, but it was not clear to me how this specifically works out.

The distinction of being incorporated into the exalted Lord but living according to his earthly life seems to be difficult to affirm dogmatically (PoP: MBOX, 111). The question comes down to one’s understanding of the nature of the eschatological state of current events. Käsemann, interpreting this through the enthusiast controversies, argues that one cannot participate in a body that is not exalted and that our bodies have not been exalted so we live an earthly life. But in the experience of the exalted Lord through the sacraments, his grace and Spirit are shared with us. Do these not allow us in some way to share in the exalted Lord? Käsemann clearly lands on the side of the “not yet” with regard to the believer’s current experience. However, this seems to place too much weight on the inaccessibility of the future.

Life is clearly marked as a gift given to believers now (Rom. 6.23), but he seems to be more qualified with regard to ethical gifts. I am curious about what basis is there for distinguishing between the moral and non-moral gifts, such as (righteousness versus life). Are different gifts mediated differently? I believe that those who ascribe to theosis see sharing in the divine life as one of the key gifts shared with believers, along with other moral attributes. In other words, I do not think they make a distinction between sharing in moral and non-moral gifts.

In many ways his work strikes me as an incarnation of Wrede’s and Schweitzer’s view of Paul, but from an obviously different perspective with regard to the history-of-religions. Wrede and Schweitzer emphasized an apocalyptic worldview, the spheres of lordship (Schweitzer: the Kingdom of God), justification beginning as a polemical doctrine, being caught up into the destiny of one’s forebear (or Schweitzer: Messiah), a realistic view of the sacraments, and a disdain for deification in Paul. Käsemann’s emphasis on the primary role of justification sets him apart from Wrede and Schweitzer. However, the key difference, especially from Schweitzer, would be the experience of resurrection life before the parousia. A central part of Schweitzer’s theology hinges on the realistic and physical experience of the resurrection life before the parousia, whereas Käsemann clearly rejects that idea. Schweitzer also has a view of the sacraments that appears to be very close to the ex opere operato concept, which again Käsemann would reject. While holding to a cosmic event, Schweitzer’s view seems to focus more on an ontological change for the individual than Käsemann. With the gift-Giver motif Käsemann holds that out for a possibility but the ontological change in the individual was not as clear or strong as with Schweitzer.