Lots of Open Doors: a review of 'After Crucifixion' by Craig Keen

It's hard to read all the books you wanna read during the school semester. Those pesky assignments and assigned readings have a way of intruding themselves into your preferred rhythm of books and articles and dissertations. But, now that the semester is over, I'm getting around to those books that have been sitting on my shelf for too long and those books that I simply have to read because somebody I trust told me I needed to.

Well one of those books, particularly one of those books that has been sitting on my shelf for too long--even though it was published only months ago--is After Crucifixion: The Promise of Theology by Dr. Craig Keen. Craig was one of my favorite professors at Azusa Pacific University while I was there and he, quite distinctly, helped shape the trajectory that my theological education has since followed. Craig is a great guy and an wonderful theologian and After Crucifixion is a beautiful work of theology which succinctly illuminates his perspective (quite personally, I think, but by no means comprehensively). And as such, it offers a welcome contribution to a variety of theological conversations. If we only learn from his posture of humility in the theological task, his book will have proved its significance. But this book has more to offer. 

As a sustained reflection on what it means to take up the cross and following Jesus, After Crucifixion is a theological book about theology, about eucharist, God, hope, memory, church, practice, gospels (Mark in particular), and the gospel. There's a lot of potential here to place Keen in conversation with other heavyweights in the field. For example, his reflections on hope and memory place him, in my mind anyway, in conversation with the early Moltmann's reflections on crucifixion and resurrection in Theology of Hope and The Crucified God. Keen writes, 
"And yet a dream of God--this God--is no ordinary dream, nor night terror... It is an apocalyptic vision. As such it makes manifest what good people do not want to see, perhaps cannot see. It manifests above all that there is a tomorrow that no yesterday can dictate. But it does so with the ambiguity that accompanies every call to revolution. 'The Reign of God is coming,' it says, 'and it is coming for you!'" (25)
He also writes,
"The gospel insists that Jesus' Holy Father, alive in heaven, is made manifest in life. The gospel indeed insists that the forsaken death of the carnal Son makes the Holy Father manifest, but that it does so in the work of the Spirit through the resurrection of his dead and damned body."(28)
I could also put Craig in conversation with Paul Tillich, perhaps even as a criticism of Tillich's perspective on hope. For Tillich, hope for the 'new' has to have some grounding in what has already been experienced in reality, in the 'old,' or else it is absurd. Hope, for Tillich, has something to do with potential. But for Keen, hope is, to a degree, unhinged from potential and past experience (even while it does not cease to be the hope for that which is utterly experienced).
“The hope of a future in Christ is a hope that does not lean on present and available ability, some power-pack of recovery. An act of the properly potential may restore, satisfy, and complete, but it will never break the chain that keeps it tethered to the essentially old. It may be relatively, but isn't absolutely new.” (49)
Keen, in fact, does not place himself in conversation with Tillich and Moltmann as much as he does with Hauerwas and Cavanaugh. The "earthy quality" (from the back cover) and carnality of his theology places his work in conversation with political and contextual theologies while by no means crossing neatly into any such categories. It's not a cartesian theology, or a theology only for the brain. It's a theology which works from the ground of reality, a reality of bodies and blood. As such it is indeed a theology after crucifixion, in more than one sense...

On the trail after crucifixion, Craig offers charitable and pointed criticisms for ecclesiology. "There may be no English word," he writes, "as bent and broken by casual misuse, or drained of blood by idealizing admirers and apologists, or grossly caricatured by huckstering detractors, as church" (41).

All this is to say, if you're looking for another theologian to engage, Craig Keen's work has lots of open doors for conversation, both for personal theological reflection and academic advancement. I recommend this book to you as one to read carefully and with expectation.