Reading Coakley: The Oneness of Baptism

This is the tenth (and final!) post in a ten-week series on reading Sarah Coakley’s Powers and Submissions with my friend and mentor, Pastor Jason Byassee.

Bless you, Erin.

This conversation has been a joy. I’m delighted to hear of your response to Coakley’s chapter on Judith Butler and Gregory of Nyssa. I remember too that’s the chapter that moved me from interest in Coakley’s work to loving it. There was something about the sheer chutzpah of pairing a secularist lesbian gender theorist with a Cappadocian father. Neither would like it very much this side of our eschatological ironing out in Jesus’ judgment. But on the other side of such judgment it’s the sort of company we’re going to have to learn to keep.

Even as I name that trait I love in her work, I worry about it. Does it do a sort of violence to the people we read to pair them over their objections this way? Doesn’t it feel like we seek extra credit for joining the ideas of the unlikeliest of companions, as if there are bonus points for cleverness?

I love your point about your complimentarian friends suggesting Galatians 3:28 as an eschatological text for future purposes only. I love it because I can’t remember ever hearing it. It reminded me that the vision of eschatology I imbibed at Duke was hyper realized. That is, in baptism, where that text was born, distinctions between slave and free, male and female, Jew and Greek are relativized. I don’t want to say demolished—we go on being male and female, Jew and Greek, etc and have to learn to be church across such lines of difference. But by the power of the Spirit now we can be the people who are Jesus’ life-giving body.

If feeling cheeky I’d want to ask your friends whether they think slavery still permissible, if Galatians 3:28 is only about a far-off eschaton. Or maybe more precise: certainly Galatians 3:28 is an eschatological claim. And the eschaton began at Golgatha; we can live in its power because of Pentecost.

I love your confident claim that there is more hope for gender transformation in the gospel than in the works of secular theory you have read. I am a preacher! I expect it to be so. But then again, ‘the world’ often lives out the gospel better than the church does, even if it has no idea (and would adamantly deny) its doing so.

So keep reading Butler and others (not that you need my encouragement to do so). Let’s hope Coakley and others keep demonstrating to us barely suppressed eschatological longings in those who wouldn’t so describe their desires themselves. And let’s all hope Jesus brings the kingdom despite our best efforts and intentions, not just through them. If we’re only dependent on the latter we’re all lost.

I’m grateful for the church as a place where male and female can be one by virtue of baptism, not least when they are teacher and student.

Gratefully,
Jason


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