Johannine Christianity and post-war existentialism

In reading W. Paul Jones' descriptions of World 1, I was struck first by the fact that this alienation is itself alien to this generation. The world hollowed of meaning in the aftermath of world wars, and the elemental angst of abandonment into that void, resonate strongly all the way to the '70s. But the generation I see around me finds Tillich alien. The pastors and future theologians of 2010 (my God, it *is* the future!) march to the beats of contention and relationality. And second, I was struck by the ways that return to the center, to the absolute, to the beginning as keys to the genuine meaning of the kosmos are thematic for John's Gospel. The plays on meaning, the misunderstandings, the signs point to an immanent otherness that is, in point of fact, primary. We are the real otherness, alienated from the ability to see what is evident to the eyes of one attuned to aion life.

What is it about Tillich, in his Schleiermacherian dependence on the unconditioned, that resonates with the Johannine placement of the Christ-logos at the center of the very beginning of all things? Is the Johannine void, like that hole at the center of German idealism, a result of the destruction of the reliable moorings of life in the violence of war? Does this have to do with the creation of Aelia Capitolina? If the synoptics are Hellenistic Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem, with their cosmic motif of following Jesus into and back out from the doomed city, John is a sort of Judean Hellenism. The Johannine influences on Justin Martyr certainly show up as ways in which he is forthrightly and officially a Hellene within the life of the Imperium. And on the other hand, they show up as ways in which he is subversive to the underpinnings of that society as one of the Chrestoi. In John, the story of the gospels is pervaded by the presence of an immanent other life available through Jesus. A world above in which the same things mean something different, a world from which God's presence breaks into this world. This world, in which there is the sense of what Jesus represents, but always also the misunderstanding of what that means into the semes of mundane existence.

The next time I approach John, I need to remember the World Wars and the first half of the 20th century, and see the ways in which they cause the gospel to resonate in a new key.


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