We Regard No One From a Human Point of View: Part 4, Cruciform Perception

Last post in this series, so let's recap J. Louis Martyn's seminal article "Epistemology at the Turn of the Ages."

First, we drew attention to Paul's apocalyptic worldview, his focus on God's actions in Christ to set the world right. 

Next, the apocalyptic invasion of Christ creates an epistemological crisis. Can we see the new thing God is doing? According to Paul, there is a way of knowing "according to the flesh" (kata sarka) that has passed away. For the people of God, "we regard no one from a human point of view."

Lastly, in 1 Corinthians Paul contrasts "unspiritual" knowing with knowing according to the Spirit. Martyn argues that the audiences in the Corinthian church would have agreed but misunderstood Paul's point, too quickly and triumphalistically identifying themselves as among "the spiritual."  

Which brings us to Martyn's final, critical point. If we no longer regard anyone from a human point of view how then should we view them? Yes, according to the Spirit, but what exactly does that mean? What is a properly spiritual way of knowing at the turn of the ages?

Recall, in 2 Corinthians 5 Paul doesn't bring in "the Spirit," as he had in 1 Corinthians, as a contrast to "the flesh." Wanting to clarify his meaning more precisely, to avoid a triumphal and prideful identification as "the spiritual," Paul turns to another contrast, Christ himself. A proper way of knowing isn't a flesh versus Spirit contrast but a flesh versus Christ contrast. Or, more properly, the proper way of knowing is via the Spirit so long as we read the Spirit Christologically.

Phrased differently, at the turn of the ages God's new creation comes into view as the Crucified. Paul's big point for the Corinthians is that their "spiritual insight" was not sufficiently cruciform. Let's look again a 2 Corinthians 5:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Following Martyn, notice how the language of "the spiritual" and "the Spirit" has been traded in for more thoroughgoing Christological language with the focus upon the cross. As Martyn summarizes: 

...[T]he implied opposite of knowing by the norm of the flesh is not knowing by the norm of the Spirit, but rather knowing kata stauron ('by the cross'). Those who recognize their life to be God's gift at the juncture of the ages recognize also that until they are completely and exclusively in the new age, their knowing by the Spirit can occur only in the form of knowing by the power of the cross. For until the parousia, the cross is and remains the epistemological crisis, and thus the norm by which one knows that the Spirit is none other than the Spirit of the crucified Christ.

The essential failure of the Corinthians consists in their inflexible determination to live somewhere other than in the cross. So also the essential flaw in their epistemology lies in their failure to view the cross as the absolute epistemological watershed. On a real cross in this world hangs God's own Messiah, the Lord of Glory! How can that be anything other than an epistemological crisis?

This remains a problem for us today. We want to associate "the Spirit" with power or elitism. But Paul punctures these illusions. Martyn continues:

Thus, the new way of knowing is not in some ethereal sense a spiritual way of knowing. It is not effected in a mystic trance, as the pseudo-apostles claimed, but rather right in the midst of rough-and-tumble life. And that rough-and-tumble life is not the private experience of an individual ecstatic...

...Thus, the one who knows by the Spirit cannot demonstrate that way of knowing by performing mighty works, congratulating himself on his individual prowess...

In the very next chapter, Paul gives a concrete example of seeing the world kata stauron, with "cruciform perception": 
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
This is key. Notice what Paul sets out as the authenticating evidence for the truthfulness of his apostleship: afflictions, beatings, imprisonment, sleepless nights, hunger, ignominy, poverty, sorrow, and dying. But also this, new creation breaking through: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, truthful speech, the Holy Spirit and the power of God. This is the mixed and confusing jumble we find at the juncture of the ages, where the old and new world collide. 

This is how the cross is our epistemological crisis and watershed. We don't expect to find glory, the Spirit, and the power of God in locations of brokenness and desolation. But that's exactly what the cross helps us to see. No longer do we look upon brokenness, suffering, shame and poverty from a human point of view. We gaze on the world with cruciform eyes. And as we do--Look!--the new creation comes into view.

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