26 May 2010

galatian transvaluation

In Galatians 6:14, Paul states: "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

The Dean, F. F. Bruce, wrote about this sentiment, "For one who makes the cross his supreme, indeed his solitary, ground of boasting all the accepted standards of social life are necessarily turned upside down: a total 'transvaluation of values' has taken place'" (271, emphasis mine).

At first, I thought this was a simple turn of a phrase in order to make a point. But then I remembered that the notion of transvaluation comes from somewhere else. It is Nietzsche, elaborating in The Antichrist, who uses this concept to assert Christianity as "ill-constituted and weak" and that which goes against nature and life. So it is interesting that The Dean would find connective tissue in these two concepts. Of course, his commentary does not elaborate (or even mention) Nietzsche and his writings, for Bruce is clearly concerned with Paul's message here. But is it safe to figure that a true transvaluation has occurred in Paul's thinking?

Obviously we can only use words in our attempts to describe that which Paul is thinking and writing - he never heard of the phrase transvaluation before. What Bruce is pointing to here is what many other authors and speakers have deemed the 'upside-down kingdom' which Jesus inaugurated. Paul is no longer evaluating humanity or the human condition by worldly standards (kata sarx), but through one's relationship to the cross. And the cross takes the world's values and places them on their collective heads.

And while for Nietzsche this was counter-nature by elevating the weak over the strong and exalting the "ill-constituted and weak" over health and life, Paul understood how the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of everyone else. Paul's entire framework is based upon the notion that the way of the world has already transvalued God's created order, and thus the cross comes along to re-transvalue it to its rightful place. Not through the order of might-makes-right, which does not deliver on all of Nietzsche's promised ideals, but through the power of love to change hearts and lives and worlds.

And, I never am able to read this verse without reciting to myself the famous words of Isaac Watts:

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

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