The remembering Jesus What theology and practice bring into the room
In the preceding chapter, the role of the remembering Jesus, the corollary of which was the forgetful disciples, was explored in the garden narrative. Garland cites Coleridge who argues: ‘If memory does not come to birth, then the way to understanding and faith is blocked; and if that is so, then there will be no human recognition of God’s visitation’.1 Emil Brunner insisted that any and all encounters with God were mediated by Jesus Christ, the same Jesus revealing God’s secret and hidden ways:
Remembering is the only way to interpret enigmatic signs. The idea that eyes were closed and then opened is parallel to . . . God’s wisdom is secret and hidden ( 1 Cor 2:7) and can only be comprehended through the Spirit of God by those who are spiritual (1 Cor. 2:11—13).2
‘Brunner is a student’s theologian; Barth a professor’s theologian’.3 Such was the judgement of James McClendon, the Christological guide for Chapters 8 and 9 on the restoring Jesus. The juxtaposition of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner between the last section and this one is unusual. For many, the only connection between the two great Protestant theologians of the twentieth century is their infamous disagreement over the role and relevance of natural theology.4 More recently, Alister McGrath has rehabilitated Brunner’s contribution to twentieth-century theology.5 McGrath correctly identified Brunner as the leading representative of what became known in English as the ‘theology of crisis’.6 McClendon’s preference for Brunner is equally appropriate for pastoral supervision and is the chosen Christological interpreter for the remembering Jesus from the previous chapter. Brunner’s exploration and explication of Christocentric revelation is, at most points, indistinguishable from Barth:
The New Testament and the Primitive Church united in the declaration that God has finally and completely revealed the secret of His being and His will in the Person of Jesus, in His life, death and resurrection.7
Brunner’s reputation for unorthodox views is, therefore, largely unwarranted. Neither does Brunner carry the same baggage in the contemporary world as the more famous Barth and his now-infamous domestic arrangements. Luther’s theologica crucis is equally explicit in Brunner’s Christologi-cal understanding of the cross:
The sacrifice of Christ, as well as His Kingship, is revelation, and indeed the center of all revelation. The Cross of Christ is not only the Highest point in the whole history of our redemption, but also of the whole history of revelation.8
Following Luther, Brunner adheres firmly to Reformation formulae of sola gratia, sola fide, soli deo gloria.9 Brunner’s contribution is expansive and has much to add to a theological framework for pastoral supervision. For example, his dialectical approach, his Christian anthropology, his reframing of a misunderstood church, and his theology of hope each provide rich resources for supervising those in ministry roles. Here, the focus will be on the remembering Jesus, introduced in the previous chapter. Specifically, how Brunner conceives of Christ’s role as mediator: ‘the Person of the Mediator must also be understood as an act of God, namely, as His coming to us in revelation and redemption’.10 Revelation is summed up in the phrase ‘God can only be known through God’. There is knowledge of God only through revelation. We meet God in Jesus, an ‘encounter’ with God in the language of Brunner. The reason we know we encounter God in Jesus Christ is because God shows up. In Jesus Christ, we discover a God who is for us and with us. ‘This word which comes to us from the realm beyond all human and historical possibilities here as a person’.11 God has entered human time and space in history—the Word became flesh (Jn. 1:1-4)—so that ‘Jesus Christ is this word from the other side’.12 As Luther insists in his theologia crucis, it is far from obvious, ‘precisely at the point at which revelation is complete, it is also a complete veiling ... because to us there is nothing more ordinary, less impressive, more familiar, than a human person like ourselves’.15 Brunner observes that the remembering Jesus is where and how God is encountered. An encounter—on the Emmaus Road, in the garden, or on the beach—is the very personal nature of the divine self-disclosure because God comes to us in person. A person we can encounter because it’s a person like us.
How does God come to us? In the context of pastoral supervision, the question is often explicitly asked, ‘how does the supervisor bring God into the room?’ This might not be the best question. A better one is, how does God come to us in supervision? First, various practitioners have noted the resonance with the biblical term and practice of oversight. Examination of key Scriptures, such as the pastoral epistles, glean crucial principles for contemporary practice. Often overlooked, however, is the very specific way God exercises oversight: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has episkeptomai [visited, looked favourably] on his people and redeemed them’ (Lk. 1:68).14
Brunner’s conception of divine encounter describes and develops the aspects of looking, favouring, and visiting God’s people for the pastoral supervision
Remembering Jesus: theology and practice 89 movements of expecting, examen-ing, and encountering.15 Second, Brunner asks an essential question for the Christological framework of this entire book: ‘why Christ after all? Why not simply God? How can we understand faith in a mediator as the expression of personal correspondence?’16 In the twenty-first century when interfaith supervision is increasingly common and good, and intercultural practices more essential, it is an awkward question. Isn’t a Christology for pastoral supervision unnecessarily narrow and exclusive? Wouldn’t a theology—or better still a spirituality—of pastoral supervision serve a wider audience? While undoubtedly true, Brunner insists on Christ as mediator is the way God comes to us, the way God remembers us:
The Mediator is not merely the bearer of an Idea. The revelation of God in the Mediator cannot be severed from the Mediator. For this very reason He is called the Mediator, because He stands in this peculiar relation the revelation, because the revelation can only be revealed in Him, and not merely through Him. He Himself is the revelation, as He Himself is the Word; He is what God has to say to us. For what God says to us in Him is not‘something’ about Himself, the personal God, His own name.17
What God does in Christ is first and foremost revelation. God encountered in Christ reveals what God is like and God’s character and purposes are understood in Jesus. Faith doesn’t just invite or require some sort of intellectual acceptance. Brunner says God comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ; he reveals himself by his personal word. Christ is not merely the bearer of salvation, the bearer of revelation, and the bearer of the kingdom. Not merely through Christ but in Christ. Where is God? God is in Christ.
In the postscript to the previous chapter, the unrepentant and unreconciled elder brother (Lk. 15:25-32) and the unrepentant and unreconciled wrongdoer on the cross (Lk. 23) served as a warning of remaining un-remembered, not safe in the memory of God. Positively, the first wrongdoer asks to be remembered by Jesus (Lk. 23:42). This is highly significant, as I explained in my book Restorative Christ:
How is the second wrongdoer’s request that Jesus remember (or, ‘bring me into memory’) be interpreted in the light of these observations? Can this dying wrongdoer imagine a future in which King Jesus lives and rules with mercy and forgiveness? Notably, the wrongdoer who asks to be remembered is also the first in Luke-Acts to recognize Jesus as simultaneously a victim who can save and a judge who shows mercy! There is a crucial link between the desire to be remembered and the nature of the one to whom the request to be remembered is made.18
From the remembered wrongdoer crucified next to the remembering Jesus are three practices for pastoral supervision: expecting, examen-ing, and encountering.