Kasemann’s On Being a Disciple…(Review Part 1)

I am currently reading E. Kaesemann’s On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene (Eerdmans, 2010) which I will be formally reviewing for Scottish Journal of Theology. Here, I will give some personal thoughts.

The book begins with a self-reflection on Kaesemann’s life that he wrote in 1996. His reflection on his own conversion in his youth carries the theological language and passion we expect of this academic giant.

…I came to know that each one’s uniqueness, or in modern parlance, each one’s identity, is experienced only through the Lord or through the demons to which one surrenders. No one belongs to himself or herself. (p. xiii).

Another interesting bit: from early on in his education, he became convinced that “the central theme of the New Testament is the worldwide Lordship of the Crucified” (p. xiv).

Later on in the essay, he offers some thoughts on the discipline of NT ethics, which he thinks is a bit misguided. The NT does not discuss “ethics” as classically defined (and in that sense, Michael Gorman’s emphasis on Paul’s spirituality is similar). Rather, instead of discussing “ethics,” Paul reflects on the effects of justification: “God is the Lord who commands, but he is the One who delivers from Egypt and forbids giving his place to other lords and gods” (p. xvi). Both powerfully and a bit vaguely Kaesemann explains: “It is the concretion of the charis that pardons us” (p. xvi).

One unmistakable aspect of this essay is the emphasis on Kaesemann’s theological, social, and political convictions. A few months back, I published in RBL a review of Magnus Zetterholm’s Approaches to Paul where, among other things, he criticizes those scholars who mix too much theology with good historical inquiry. He points particularly to Kaesemann as one who demonstrates such a flawed hermeneutic.

At what cost, though, do we read the NT and try to disregard theological entailments and presuppositions? Kaesemann’s voice, from the grave now (sadly), speaks quite loudly to Zetterholm in this amazing volume of theological and political/social essays. More than his voice, though, we “hear” Kaesemann’s life of faith and (to use a term Kaesemann doesn’t) cruciformity. Just let this quote from life reflections soak in:

The founding of the Confessing Church at Wuppertal led to political opposition. As early as the fall of 1933, I declared that the Reichbishop was a traitor to the evangelical church. From then on I was hated by the Nazis, later was denounced in the marketplace as a national traitor by the Gauleiter (district leader) in Gesenkirchen, and was recommended to the higher authorities for assignment to a concentration camp. (p. xviii)

We have no real grounds, based on such a life, to ignore what Kaesemann says in the conclusion to this essay:

As a last word and as my bequest, let me call to you in Huguenot style: “Résistez!” Discipleship of the Crucified leads necessarily to resistance to idolatry on every front. This resistance is and must be the most important mark of Christian freedom (xxi).

Certainly Kaesemann was not perfect and made wrong turns in his interpretation once in a while. He was a child of his times and we must acknowledge that. However, I hope my gravestone will read: “Faithful member of the Resistance, true disciple of the Crucified.”