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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Eikrem, Asle


God as Sacrificial Love. A Systematic Exploration of a Controversial Notion.


London u. a.: Bloomsbury T & T Clark 2018. 336 S. = T & T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology. Geb. US$ 114,00. ISBN 978-0-567-67864-5.


Deidre Nicole Green

In his broad treatment of the notion of divine sacrificial love in the Christian tradition, Asle Eikrem offers a constructive reconfiguration of self-sacrifice. This incisive and innovative analysis offers critical theological insight to scholars and practitioners alike. E. sets out to systematically explain – and also transcend – the biblical vocabulary of sacrifice in a way that coheres with an understanding of the »world as created, sustained, and brought to fulfillment by a loving God« (57). Going beyond theological critiques of divine love as self-sacrifice, which have proliferated from the Enlightenment to the present, E. seeks to »develop a conceptual scheme that allows for a far more nuanced reconstruction of the relationship between a theological semantic of sacrifice and a theological semantic of love« (57). His book works to defend a theological stance that both affirms sacrifice as an anthropological determination and negates self-sacrifice as an ethical ideal, viewing these as »co-determinative aspects of what it means to live as human beings in a world created by a God who is love« (248). E. succeeds in offering a nuanced and thoughtful approach to self-sacrifice that gives careful attention to evade the problems of valorizing it while retaining a meaningful place for it in Christian thought.
Using a theoretical and reconstructive approach, E. addresses 3 major questions: first, whether God’s action in Jesus can be coherently reconstructed as an expression of sacrificial love; second, whether the requirements set upon human beings for the fulfilment of the divine-human relationship are to be understood as sacrificial love; third, whether sacrificial love should serve as an ethical ideal that guides the morality of human individuals »living within the relational spaces generated by divine life« (2). Offering a historical survey of influential thought on sacrifice, E. evaluates the theological, moral, and socio-historical implications of various perspectives in order to »reconstruct their constitutive elements in an attempt to coherently configure the relational spaces of God and humanity as love« (7). Aiming to develop a theory-language for love as self-sacrifice that incorporates more nuance than the biblical and traditional theological vocabularies, E. explores whether various aspects of the semantics of sacrifice and love can form a cohesive understanding of the life and death of Jesus as an expression of sacrificial love (7). He carefully demarcates his views from those of his interlocutors on a wide range of topics related to self-sacrifice, including sacred bloodshed, trinitarian self-giving, inclusion and exclusion, theodicy, and sin, as well as divine love for humanity, humanity’s love for God, and neighbor love.
After an overview of some of the major developments in theologizing sacrifice and atonement in the Christian tradition, E. appropriately devotes a generous portion of the discussion to the issue of sacralized violence, particularly in light of feminist critique. He succinctly articulates the paradox that lies at the center of Christian soteriology: »enemy-love and sacrifice are mutually exclusive be-cause there is a logical contradiction of goal and means that reflects a tension in the concept of God: how can a perfectly loving God solve the problem of violence and death by actively committing, or passively allowing, deadly violence?« (59. E. names various problems that arise from violence, including the compromise of one’s capacities. In this discussion, E. critically engages the Tübinger Antithese, which he deems to be at least partially misguided in its assessment of the objects of its critique and therefore inaccurate in its aims (82–83). Here, E. makes plain that consistency with biblical claims does not make a theological statement true but only authentic; rather, a theological claim is »true insofar as it is possible to integrate it into a theological construal more coherent than its alternatives« (87). Yet he affirms the basic methodological approach and some aspects of the view. In his analysis, E. highlights that numerous biblical passages indicate that Christ’s love bears transformative power prior to and independently of atonement and its inherent violence.
One of E.’s greatest contributions is his discussion of hospital-ity and inclusion as an instantiation of sacrificial love. He asserts that the criterion of radical inclusion must be met in order for an act of love to be radically nonviolent and acknowledges that Jesus’s salvific nature is revealed most profound in his hospitality instead of through his incarnation. In light of this, he asserts that the love of God and all human beings is the norm for assessing sacrificial religion. What God loves, as per E., is the love of everything. In his discussion of both forgiveness and hospitality, E. makes plain that human reception does not require that antecedent conditions be met, but that consequent conditions become binding in terms of neighbor love once one has experienced these forms of divine love. His way of relating forgiveness to resistance is also instructive. Denying that victimization can inspire love because it is radically destructive, E. maintains that love resists suffering rather than accepts it. For him, the divine moves beyond passive condonation of violence and victimization through forgiveness, which forms an active response on the part of the divine to initiate a creative process in the face of victimization and abuse. Through forgiveness, Christ becomes the source of freedom even for his victimizers and this dynamic proves normative for all who forgive.
Although E.’s views are carefully formulated in order to avoid numerous potential pitfalls, there are a few points that might have been more nuanced. For example, he asserts that hell »only exists for those who do not want to live in the presence of God’s love, yet finding escape from God’s love is impossible« (190). Just previous, E. spoke of the ontological omnipresence of divine love even amid its epistemic hiddenness, which is a fine formulation. However, in light of the pervasiveness of sexualized violence, one might avoid describing God’s love as inevitable. Is it efficacious to think of divine love as irresistible in cases where a person has had »love« forced upon her despite resistance? Moreover, to make God’s love inescapable seems to undermine all that E. says about human freedom, which is grounded in God, as well as what he says about God’s self-limitation in relation to contingent beings. If God allows human freedom such that human beings can reject God, why would God impose God’s love on those free beings to the extent that they experience it as hell? Moreover, this seems to contradict E.’s later point that true human love is essentially self-denying such that it does not even demand the recognition of itself as love. Why would it be the case that human love ought to be self-denying in a way that divine love is not? This discussion stands in need of further reflec-tion and elaboration in order to achieve the coherence that E. seeks.
Overall, E. makes an important contribution to the controver-sial topic of sacrifice and its overidentification with love in the Christian tradition. Engaging both classical and contemporary sources, he deals with multiple pressing issues for 21st c. Christianity in a way that does them justice and continually points the read-er back to less problematic understandings of love. This book deals with provocative issues in a way that is not alienating but rather reflects the love it seeks to describe. Lifting up resistance, resurrection, and consecration as integral to Christian life and sacrifice, E. concludes that to »sacrifice oneself means to live one’s whole life dedicated to the actualization of God’s will which is to overcome evil by doing good« insofar as human beings can work to actualize divine love within the world not through »victimization or self-destruction, but in a specific way of living with, for and from others« (238–239). In this way, the book fosters reflection on how to live more lovingly and justly in a world of difference and violence.